Hice raises most money this year in race for Georgia election chief

12/16/2020 —  Atlanta, Georgia —  Fulton County elections workers work with voters during early voting at Chastain Park Gymnasium in Atlanta’s Chastain Park neighborhood, Wednesday, December 16, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
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12/16/2020 — Atlanta, Georgia — Fulton County elections workers work with voters during early voting at Chastain Park Gymnasium in Atlanta’s Chastain Park neighborhood, Wednesday, December 16, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

U.S. Rep. Jody Hice has jumped to an early fundraising lead in the race for Georgia secretary of state, bringing in $576,000 so far from donors including an organization founded by Donald Trump’s former deputy campaign manager.

Behind Hice, campaign finance reports show that Democrat Bee Nguyen raised $387,000 from February through June, followed by Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger at $249,000. Republican David Belle Isle brought in $164,000.

The contributions indicate how Trump’s influence and the 2020 presidential election will reverberate in next year’s race to oversee elections in Georgia, which is now a swing state after Democrats won campaigns for president and the U.S. Senate.

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Hice, a Trump-backed candidate from Greensboro, collected a $7,000 contribution from the Presidential Coalition, a Washington-based group that supports down-ballot Republicans.

The organization was created by David Bossie, who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign and is president of the conservative advocacy group Citizens United, which won a U.S. Supreme Court case in 2010 that prohibited restrictions on independent campaign expenditures by corporations and unions.

Hice has closely aligned himself with Trump, voting against the certification of the presidential election in which Joe Biden beat Trump and frequently attacking Raffensperger for his management. Hice called his objection to the election “our 1776 moment” before rallies outside the Capitol turned violent on Jan. 6, and he later voted against a bill awarding medals to police officers who defended the Capitol.

Hice’s campaign didn’t return messages seeking comment. He also received $7,000 contributions from fellow U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, real estate developers, the CEO for the business supply company Uline and the president of Arcilla Mining and Land Co. in Middle Georgia.

Raffensperger will face a difficult campaign before next year’s Republican primary, raising less than half as much as Hice so far this year after drawing the ire of Trump supporters. Raffensperger certified the election, rejected allegations of fraud and refused Trump’s demand to “find” more votes.

While Hice appealed to Trump loyalists, Raffensperger received support from a political action committee that helps Republicans who opposed the former president. Founded by Illinois Republican U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Future First Leadership PAC gave Raffensperger $5,000.

Other donors to Raffensperger included state Sen. Chuck Hufstetler and former state Reps. Brett Harrell and Allen Peake. Raffensperger declined to comment.

The leading Democrat in the race, Nguyen, collected contributions from several state legislators as well as Georgia Advancing Progress, a political action committee advocating for Asian American representation.

Nguyen, a state representative from Atlanta, acknowledged that her fundraising trails Hice’s, but she said it shows support for her message of protecting voting rights.

“We have an uphill battle in the state of Georgia, and we are potentially facing somebody who is dangerous to democracy,” Nguyen said.

Like Hice, the third major Republican in the race, Bell Isle, has also criticized Raffensperger and sought to appeal to Trump’s voters. Belle Isle lost to Raffensperger in a Republican primary runoff in 2018.

Belle Isle’s backers include real estate agents, builders and financial consultants, most of whom live near Alpharetta, where he was once mayor. Over 99% of Belle Isle’s contributions came from Georgians, with just $1,500 from out-of-state donors.

“All the spending in the world couldn’t save Raffensperger right now,” said Dan McLagan, campaign spokesman for Belle Isle. “We’re starting out with pretty good name ID and obviously the best candidate.”

Three other candidates are also in the race.

Democrat Manswell Peterson, a military veteran and author, is facing an ethics investigation for “unusual amounts of small-dollar donations” after he reported raising $318,000 in donations of less than $100 and just two itemized contributions amounting to $850.

Former Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves, a Democrat, raised $26,000.

Republican T.J. Hudson, a former chief magistrate judge and probate judge in Treutlen County who was recently under investigation for judicial misconduct, reported raising $25,000.

The candidates for each party will meet in primaries on May 24, with the winners competing in next year’s Nov. 8 general election.

Secretary of state candidate fundraising this year

Jody Hice: $575,770

Bee Nguyen: $386,684

Manswell Peterson: $318,982

Brad Raffensperger: $249,293

David Belle Isle: $164,307

John Eaves: $26,460

T.J. Hudson: $25,391

Source: Georgia Government Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission