Georgia election board dismisses Herschel Walker gas giveaway case

Pro-Walker PAC gave $25 gift cards after asking for votes
The State Election Board voted unanimously to dismiss a case involving gift cards that were handed out at gas stations by a political action committee that supported Republican Herschel Walker's campaign for the U.S. Senate. The board determined that it did not amount to vote-buying. The board's chairman, however, did call it "troubling." Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

The State Election Board voted unanimously to dismiss a case involving gift cards that were handed out at gas stations by a political action committee that supported Republican Herschel Walker's campaign for the U.S. Senate. The board determined that it did not amount to vote-buying. The board's chairman, however, did call it "troubling." Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Handing out $25 gift cards at events promoting Republican Herschel Walker’s run for the U.S. Senate didn’t amount to vote-buying, according to the State Election Board’s unanimous decision to dismiss a complaint.

But the board’s chairman said Tuesday that he found the campaign stunt “troubling,” and the board voted to send a letter to 34N22, the political action committee that hosted the events, with an admonishment to act appropriately.

The gift card giveaways at gas stations and grocery stores last year were legal because anyone who showed up received a card — including at least one voter who supported Walker’s opponent, Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock. Georgia law bars payments or gifts in exchange for voting, registering to vote or voting for a specific candidate.

Bill Duffey, chairman of the State Election Board, said he was concerned that before people got the gift card at a downtown Atlanta Chevron, they were asked who they would vote for and whether they’d consider voting for Walker.

“Everybody in the state needs to know that if you want to engage in this sort of campaign conduct, you have to be really, really careful,” Duffey said. “... This is troubling to the board.”

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

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Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

The events, designed to highlight rising gas prices, featured flyers promoting Walker and signs declaring “Warnock isn’t working.”

“We made clear that the vouchers were available to anyone on a first-come, first-served basis, and they were not conditioned on anything,” said Tippi Burch, an attorney for 34N22. “34N22 did encourage people to vote for our candidate, but we did not condition the vouchers or cards on that.”

Board member Janice Johnston said the gift card giveaways were more like campaigning than vote-buying, in part because the events were held from June to September last year, months before November’s general election.

“It’s much more like a campaign stunt or a publicity stunt,” Johnston said.

34N22 distributed $4,000 worth of vouchers at the Atlanta Chevron station on June 4, 2022. Other events were held in Jeffersonville, Macon, Preston, Savannah and Washington.

The State Election Board has previously dismissed similar allegations, including cases involving a Bibb County councilwoman who provided food while passing out campaign literature at a retirement home, a Douglas County candidate who offered free hot dogs near a polling place and a group called When We All Vote that gave away free food at early voting locations. In each case, the gifts weren’t conditioned on voting.

Board member Matt Mashburn said he doesn’t want groups or candidates to think they can use gifts to secure votes.

“I think it’s fair to say, this is as close to that line as we want anybody to ever get,” Mashburn said.