Kemp’s special ‘leadership fund’ raises $2.3 million

Gov. Brian Kemp's leadership committtee, which is separate from his campaign committee and able to raise unlimited amounts of cash, even while the Legislature is in session, has collected $2.3 million since June. Donations were has high as $250,000, and much of the money came from individuals and companies interested in legislation and state policy. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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Gov. Brian Kemp's leadership committtee, which is separate from his campaign committee and able to raise unlimited amounts of cash, even while the Legislature is in session, has collected $2.3 million since June. Donations were has high as $250,000, and much of the money came from individuals and companies interested in legislation and state policy. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

The new leadership committee that gave Gov. Brian Kemp a decided fundraising advantage over his opponents has taken in $2.3 million since it was formed in June, a new report shows.

That is on top of the $12 million the governor has reported having in his campaign account as he heads into a costly and likely brutal reelection fight against former Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue and Kemp’s 2018 Democratic challenger, Stacey Abrams.

The report on Kemp’s Georgians First Leadership Committee was released shortly after a federal judge ruled that going forward, the fund can’t be used to help the governor win his primary against Perdue. However, it can continue to receive unlimited donations, including during the General Assembly session, as long as the money isn’t spent directly on Kemp’s primary campaign.

Perdue sued Kemp and the leadership committee, claiming it gave the incumbent a huge reelection advantage because challengers like him weren’t allowed to form the funds. Neither can most lawmakers and statewide elected officials.

There is a big difference in what Kemp’s committee can 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 reported numerous contributions ranging up to $250,000 from individuals and donors. They included many in real estate development and some from individuals and companies with a big interest in what goes on at the Capitol.

The CEO of an Illinois shipping and supply company that does business with state agencies and colleges, contributed $250,000. The Leeberns, beverage distributors who have been giving big money to Georgia leaders for decades, gave $100,000.

Mark Hennessy of Hennessy Cadillac donated $50,000. Car dealers are currently fighting legislation to let e-car companies sell their cars directly to consumers.

C.W. Matthews, the state’s largest road contractor, contributed $25,000, as did Terry Cook, manager of a nursing home company that receives Medicaid funding, and the national pharmaceutical lobby. Centene, a major player in the state’s Peachcare for Kids insurance program, gave $15,200. The Colonial Group, which successfully pushed through a tax break to help start a yacht-repair business, donated $15,000.

Kelly Loeffler, whom Kemp appointed to the U.S. Senate, contributed $37,000 worth of airfare. Loeffler was ousted by voters in 2021.

About $355,000 collected through the end of January was reported to have been accepted after the start of this year’s General Assembly session. By law, Kemp’s campaign for governor, or any other campaign of a state-elected official, can’t legally raise money during legislative sessions. Several of the contributions since the start of the session came from Capitol interests.

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 raised $9.2 million for her latest campaign since entering the race in December.