Kemp leadership group has raked in $4.7 million, spent most of it already

The leadership committee that gave Gov. Brian Kemp a decided fundraising advantage over his opponents has taken in $4.7 million since it was formed in June, a new report shows.

Georgians First’s latest campaign disclosure shows it has spent all but $673,000 ahead of the governor’s primary with former U.S. Sen David Perdue.

That is on top of the $10.7 million the governor has reported having in his personal campaign account as he heads into the home stretch of his reelection primary fight against Perdue and, if he wins, a rematch with Democratic challenger, Stacey Abrams.

U.S. District Judge Mark Cohen ruled earlier this year that Kemp’s Georgians First Leadership Committee had to stop using its money against Perdue, although it could pay off any commitments it had made. Cohen recently ruled the committee had to stop raising money unless he wins the GOP nomination.

In both cases, Cohen ruled that the leadership committee law gave Kemp an unfair advantage by allowing only the incumbent to create a fund before the primary. By the time of the most recent ruling, however, Georgians First had been raising money for several months.

The leadership committee law passed by the Republican-led General Assembly in 2021 lets the governor, the opposing party’s gubernatorial nominee, the lieutenant governor and party caucuses create special committees to raise as much cash as they can without limits. It gives incumbents an added edge since their challengers can’t use the funds until they win their party’s nomination.

There is a big difference in what Kemp’s committee could raise and what individual candidates for office can collect.

Statewide candidates, such as those running for governor, are currently allowed to raise $7,600 from individual donors for the primary and again for the general election, plus $4,500 per runoff.

Those limits don’t apply to leadership committees that only Kemp, the eventual Democratic nominee for governor and a few legislative caucuses can create. So, for instance, a company or business association seeking a tax break from the General Assembly could give $100,000 or more to such funds and do it while lawmakers are considering the tax break or while the governor is deciding whether to sign it into law.

The committee has reported numerous contributions ranging up to $250,000 from individuals and donors. They included many individuals and companies with a big interest in what goes on at the Capitol.

In its most recent report, many of the $25,000, $50,000 and $100,000 contributions to the leadership committee came from real estate developers.

For instance, Hillwood Development of Dallas, one of the top industrial, commercial and residential real estate developers in the country and a major donor to GOP causes nationally, gave $50,0000.

The fund got $150,000 from Elizabeth Uihlein, an American billionaire from suburban Chicago who is another major national Republican donor. Virgil Williams, whose family operates Lake Lanier Islands, contributed $100,000. Guy Millner, a Buckhead multi-millionaire former Republican U.S. Senate and gubernatorial nominee in Georgia, gave $100,000, as did Donald Leebern III, president of Georgia Crown Distributing.

Former President George W. Bush contributed $5,000.

Kemp’s political team has good reason to want a massive political war chest. Perdue is backed by former President Donald Trump, who has influence on the state’s Republican base and has kept up his attacks against Kemp for not doing more to illegally overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results in his favor.

If Kemp, as expected, gets past the primary, he faces a rematch with Abrams, who set fundraising records that year and whose voting rights group, Fair Fight, has raised more than $100 million since then. Abrams has already raised more than $20 million since entering the race in December.