The Georgia Ethics Commission has launched a case against two groups affiliated with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams based on allegations the nonprofits raised and spent money on her 2018 campaign for governor, according to reports.
The commission unanimously decided on Aug. 1 that there’s probable cause to believe the organizations violated campaign law by not disclosing contributions and expenditures, reports show.
The ethics probe stemming from four years ago could lead to the biggest penalty of its kind in the state’s history. It comes just three months ahead of the November general election when Abrams will go head to head with her political rival, Republican Brian Kemp. Abrams believes the case is a targeted attack by the Republican-led ethics commission, according to reports.
The commission says the organizations: the New Georgia Project voter registration nonprofit Abrams founded in 2013, and the New Georgia Project Action Fund raised $4.2 million and spent $3 million during her previous gubernatorial campaign. They hired canvassers to secure votes and contributions for Abrams. The organizations acted as political committees, but did not register with the state as one or submit financial information, the commission alleges. The nonprofits also solicited votes and contributions for other campaigns and causes, reports show.
Aria C. Branch, an attorney for the organizations, told the commission the groups used the donations for operating expenses. The canvassing was subcontracting work for a political committee tied to Abrams, and as a subcontractor, they were not obligated to file the financial documents, he said.
“There is no hiding of money here,” Branch said.
According to reports, Abrams left the New Georgia Project before the other nonprofit was even launched. She told reporters the investigation is part of an agenda by a Kemp donor, David Emadi, who has led the ethics commission since 2019. However, Bloomberg reports that the commission started looking at the organizations before Emadi became director, but he moved the investigation along.
“I’m pleased with the commission’s vote that found what staff has known to be true for a while, that this group spent millions in dark money to influence Georgia voters without disclosing who was bankrolling them,” Emadi said. “Georgia citizens deserve to know who is attempting to tip the scales in their elections, and they were deprived of that right in 2018 and 2019 to the tune of millions of dollars. We’re glad that evidence has finally come to light for the public to see.”
The case file is now subject to an administrative law hearing. Then it must be reviewed by a judge. The commission can accept the judge’s recommendation or reject it and hold a hearing to deliberate further.
In 2020, Gente4Abrams (People for Abrams), a third organization included in the probe, was fined $50,000 for failing to report its spending on Abrams’ previous gubernatorial campaign, according to reports.