Kemp’s ‘leadership committee’ remains powerful political tool

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Gov. Brian Kemp can’t run for another term as Georgia governor, but he’s using a special fundraising committee that helped finance his reelection bid to raise cash to promote his agenda and set the stage for his next political move.

The Republican reported amassing about $5.2 million in his account through a powerful new type of committee, according to financial records released this week that show the fund has $3.7 million on hand and an additional $1.5 million in investments.

The Georgians First Leadership Committee was created by a Kemp-backed law that is reshaping state politics by letting the governor and a limited number of others create funds that can raise unlimited contributions and coordinate directly with campaigns.

Over roughly two years, Kemp has raised more than $50.4 million through the committee, which he continues to maintain even after his second victory over Democrat Stacey Abrams.

The records show much of the money Kemp collected during the latest reporting period, which spans from February through June, came from a $3.7 million transfer from the governor’s official campaign.

He also collected about $1.2 million during a three-day Sea Island retreat in May that brought together some of his top donors and allies, his aides said. At the retreat, Kemp pointedly said he hadn’t yet ruled out a White House bid, although he has since discouraged talk of a presidential campaign.

Kemp’s committee tapped donations from a familiar network of allies and corporations. The largest individual check was a $100,000 donation from Crown Distributing President Don Leebern III, whose father is a major GOP donor and former Board of Regents member.

Other donations included $25,000 from Elevance Health, a major health insurance firm that does business with the state; $10,000 from CoreCivic, a private prison firm that was paid $101 million to house state prisoners in its facilities; and $10,000 from the Georgia Health Care Association, the powerful nursing home lobby.

Auto dealer Mark Hennessy, a fake GOP elector who Kemp recently named to the Board of Natural Resources, wrote a $50,000 check to the committee. John Isakson Jr., a real estate developer who is the son of the former U.S. senator, gave $25,000.

And former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, whom Kemp appointed to the seat in 2019, gave an in-kind donation of airfare, presumably from her private jet, valued at nearly $30,000.

Kemp’s leadership committee has quickly morphed into a parallel fundraising and voter turnout structure that has filled a void left by the Georgia GOP, a once-powerful organization that helped marshal a flood of spending in competitive races.

The state GOP’s clout waned considerably under now-former Chair David Shafer, who infuriated key leaders and activists by openly siding with Donald Trump-backed challengers to Kemp and other Republican incumbents in last year’s primaries.

Already, Kemp has deployed his committee to protect a handful of vulnerable Republican incumbents in the state Legislature while taking aim at Democrats representing swing districts. He’s used it to hire consultants, pollsters and adsmiths.

And the governor has told high-dollar donors that the 2022 midterm was a sign “we can no longer rely on the traditional party infrastructure to win in the future” while urging them to consider his political network as an alternative.

Staff writer James Salzer contributed to this article.