ATLANTA (AP) — A federal judge cast doubts Monday that he might give Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams an immediate right under Georgia law to raise and spend unlimited campaign contributions.
US District Judge Mark Cohen told a lawyer for Abrams’s gubernatorial campaign that she was asking him to rewrite state law to allow Abrams’ One Georgia committee to start taking money before the May 24 primaries.
During a hearing in Atlanta, Cohen told attorney Joyce Lewis, “I’m uncomfortable with the measure you’re asking me to take, because you’re asking me to rewrite the statute.”
Cohen suggested that it “makes more sense” if Abrams had demanded that the judge shut down the committee’s ability to raise funds for the current government, Brian Kemp.
“Why aren’t you asking me to shut down Kemp’s leadership committee?” The judge asked.
Cohen said he would rule on Abrams’ request for an emergency order by the end of the week.
In February, Cohen ordered Kemp’s committee not to spend any money in the Republican primary, challenging Kemp’s Republican primary rival David Perdue. Cohen said such spending would give Kemp an unfair advantage against the former US senator because Perdue is not allowed on a similar committee. However, Cohen didn’t stop Kemp’s committee from taking the money. It is a provisional decision while Perdue’s lawsuit challenges Kemp’s committee as unconstitutional. Kemp is appealing the ruling.
Like Perdue, Abrams says the new kind of fundraising committee created by Georgia lawmakers last year is unconstitutional. Called a leadership committee, it allows certain people and groups to accept unlimited contributions. Grants to regular candidate committees are limited to $7,600 for primary and general elections, and $4,500 for any runoff elections.
Under the law, the governor and lieutenant governor oppose the party’s leading candidates, and may form party caucus committees both in the state House and Senate. Unlike most other political action committees, committees can coordinate with candidate campaigns. After signing it into law, Kemp created the Georgian First Leadership Committee, which raised $2.3 million by January.
Abrams set up a leadership committee called One Georgia after qualifying, arguing that no one filed to run against her in the Democratic primary on May 24 and that because write-in votes were not allowed, qualifying would be closed. But she became the Democratic nominee. State Democratic Party chair Nikema Williams, who is also a US Representative, agrees, adding that the party recognizes Abrams as its standard-bearer for the November 8 general election.
However, Cohen noted that state law does not provide for declaring a nominee prior to the primary.
“Georgia’s law says she is not nominated,” he said.
Lewis argued that because Georgian First has already raised large amounts of money, and is still accepting contributions, “the toothpaste is out of the tube” in terms of withholding contributions. Instead, the Abrams campaign argues that One Georgia should be allowed to raise funds freely and Cohen should order state ethics officials not to take enforcement action, at least for now.
“Not every day we’re allowed to lift and increase the Kemp campaign, one day we’re on an uneven level,” Lewis said, noting that even though Kemp can’t afford it now, he’s “collecting”. could. “We are not asking for unequal treatment. We are demanding equal treatment.”
But Cohen said he questioned the prudence of Abrams’ request to maintain a structure he argues is unconstitutional. Elizabeth Davis, an attorney for the state, said no enforcement action is ongoing and that the ethics body, known as the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, would be “overbroad and premature.”
She said raising and spending Abrams would “create his own version of an uneven playing field” because Kemp is barred from spending and has no access to Perdue’s leadership committee.
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