Court sides with Abrams campaign
Democrat Stacey Abrams and her campaign won a major fight as a Fulton County judge ruled against the state ethics commission in its bid to get records from Abrams’ 2018 gubernatorial campaign. The Commission, which enforces state campaign finance laws, had said that Abrams and other groups may have illegally coordinated with the candidate’s bid for office.
Lawyers for Stacey Abrams’ campaign and groups that supported her said they had previously provided thousands of documents to the state ethics commission and suggested that the commission wanted records that either didn’t exist or should have no bearing on its case. Lauren Groh-Wargo, a top Abrams aide and her 2018 campaign manager said, “This was always a political fishing expedition,” in an attempt to smear Abrams’ name as she is anticipated to run again for Governor of Georgia in 2022.
In describing the commission’s subpoenas, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jane Barwick found it overly broad.
“We don’t agree with the ruling,” said David Emadi, the ethics commission’s executive secretary. “We’re considering a number of appellate options right now.” The commission may appeal the ruling, which greatly narrowed the scope of the documents the groups would have to produce, to the Georgia Court of Appeals.
Abrams is expected to seek a rematch with Gov. Brian Kemp in 2022, and her supporters say the commission is trying to smear her reputation before the election. Abrams lost the 2018 race to Kemp.
Formally known as the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, the state ethics commission immediately targeted Abrams once Emadi was appointed its secretary. Abrams’ camp quickly pointed out that Emadi was a Kemp donor in 2018 as the commission began demanding all correspondence between the campaign and several groups that registered and mobilized voters, many with a focus on energizing minority voters during their get out to vote efforts.
The commission is looking into whether Abrams’ campaign illegally coordinated its efforts with nonprofits supporting her bid for governor. Georgia law prohibits independent groups from coordinating with candidates.
Attorneys for the Abrams campaign said the ethics commission lacks evidence of wrongdoing, and now it’s trying to dig into personal emails and other documents unrelated to the allegations. During a 2020 hearing they explained that they had already turned over 4,000 documents showing checks, wire transfers, bank records and campaign transactions.
The commission is investigating whether New Georgia Project broke state law by spending on Abrams’ campaign for campaign related items such as canvassers and mass mailings, but not disclosing it.
Earlier this month, the Georgia Court of Appeals dismissed a motion by Abrams’ Attorney to squash subpoenas seeking the group’s bank records.
Many political watchers believe the case could continue well into the Abrams and Kemp campaign battle for the governor’s office.