ATLANTA (CN) — Georgia's only Democratic candidate for governor, Stacey Abrams, filed a federal lawsuit on Monday challenging a state law that gives incumbents the ability to raise campaign money without limits while primary candidates must wait until they become their party's official nominee.
Abrams argues that a bill signed into law last year by Republican Governor Brian Kemp, who she narrowly lost to in the 2018 gubernatorial election, gives him an unconstitutional fundraising advantage.
In her complaint against Republican Attorney General Chris Carr and members of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, Abrams takes aim at Senate Bill 221, which allows the incumbent governor, the nominated candidate of the opposing party and party caucuses to raise and spend unlimited contributions for their campaigns, including during legislative sessions, through so-called leadership committees. Challengers like Abrams are unable to do so until they win their primary.
“Brian Kemp signed legislation giving himself exclusive access to a special fundraising committee, and he’s already raised millions of dollars into it. Our campaign should have that same access,” the Abrams campaign said in a statement.
Abrams argues that because she is Georgia's only qualified Democratic candidate for governor, she should not have to wait for the May 24 primary to be declared the Democratic nominee and should be able to begin fundraising through her leadership committee, One Georgia.
Although Abrams registered One Georgia with the campaign finance commission last Wednesday, the defendant members have refused to approve operation of the leadership committee, even after Congresswoman Nikema Williams, the chair of Georgia's Democratic Party, wrote an affidavit for Abrams declaring her the party's gubernatorial nominee.
One Georgia began accepting contributions shortly after the qualifying period concluded, according to the lawsuit, which asks a federal judge in Atlanta to prevent any enforcement proceedings or investigations from being brought against Abrams.
“Absent such relief, Ms. Abrams – the sole qualified and declared Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia – and her campaign committee will be unable to operate, control, chair, or otherwise use One Georgia, a leadership committee properly constituted and registered pursuant to [state law], to support her campaign without credible and justified threat and fear of legal proceedings being instituted against plaintiffs,” the complaint states.
The court granted a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the law just last month, when former U.S. senator and opponent to Kemp in the Republican primary, David Perdue, also objected it as a violation of free speech.
U.S. District Judge Mark Cohen, a Barack Obama appointee, held that the governor could not use funds from his leadership committee to help win his Republican primary. However, the judge also decided that Kemp can continue to receive unlimited donations for other races, as long as the money isn’t spent directly on the gubernatorial primary campaign.
GOP primary challengers like Perdue are not allowed to form leadership committees and are limited to raising $7,600 from individual donors for the primary and again for the general election, plus $4,500 per runoff.
Since it was formed last June, Kemp’s leadership committee had taken in at least $2.3 million as of Jan. 31, in addition to the $12 million the governor has reported having in his campaign account.
In February, Abrams reported having raised more than $9.2 million from donors since entering the race for governor in December.
"As applied by the commission, the LC statute has the purpose and effect of quieting core political speech of any other challenger to the incumbent governor, including a qualified, declared candidate for governor who has been
declared the nominee of an adverse political party," according to Monday's lawsuit, filed by Abrams' attorney Adam Sparks of Krevolin & Horst.
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