Federal judge temporarily halts fundraising by Kemp committee

Stacey Abrams

ATLANTA – A federal judge ruled Thursday that Gov. Brian Kemp may not raise additional funds for his reelection bid from a leadership committee until the Republican gubernatorial nomination is decided.

Legislation the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed last year established eight leadership committees to be chaired by Georgia’s governor, lieutenant governor, the general-election nominees opposing those two statewide incumbents and the heads of the majority and minority caucuses of the state House of Representatives and Senate.

Unlike other campaign committees, leadership committees can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money.

Early this year, former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who is challenging Kemp in the May 24 Republican gubernatorial primary, filed suit in federal court charging the law is unconstitutional because it allows incumbent governors to raise money from a leadership committee while challengers can’t.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and her leadership committee One Georgia took the law to court in March, asking that the committee be granted the right to start raising and spending campaign contributions. She argued that since she has no primary opponent, she is already effectively her party’s nominee.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Mark Cohen ordered Kemp’s leadership committee to stop raising money unless and until he becomes the Republican nominee. If Kemp wins the GOP nomination this month or in a June runoff if that becomes necessary, both he and Abrams would then be allowed to activate their leadership committees and, thus, be on a level playing field.

“We are pleased the court both recognized and offered a remedy today for the unconstitutional fundraising advantage Brian Kemp signed into law benefiting himself,” Lauren Groh-Wargo, Abrams’ campaign manager, said following Thursday’s ruling.

“After months and months of Brian Kemp having exclusive ability to raise unlimited funds as a result of the bill he signed, Kemp will no longer be able to raise these funds while Stacey Abrams and One Georgia are denied equal ability to operate under the same rules.”

Legislative Democrats opposed the leadership committee legislation last year, arguing that allowing unlimited campaign contributions would increase the influence of special interests in Georgia politics at a time when public trust in government already is low.

State law limits individual campaign contributions to $14,000 to $22,200 for candidates for statewide posts and $5,600 to $8,600 for those seeking legislative seats, depending on whether a candidate is forced into primary and/or general-election runoffs.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Kemp signs controversial education package

ATLANTA – Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed a series of education bills Thursday, completing work on an agenda legislative Democrats, civil rights groups and educators have criticized as election-year politics.

The package includes a Parents’ Bill of Rights setting up a process for parents to provide input into what their children are taught and legislation banning the teaching of certain “divisive” concepts surrounding racism in Georgia schools. The latter bill also includes a provision that could lead to prohibiting transgender students born male from participating in girls’ sports.

“Protecting the teaching of freedom, liberty, opportunity and the American Dream in the classroom should not be controversial,” Kemp said during a signing ceremony at the Forsyth County Arts and Learning Center in Cumming.

“Making sure parents have the ultimate say in their child’s education should not be controversial. [For] every girl in this state to have the opportunity to succeed in the sport they love … should not be controversial.”

But Terrence Wilson, regional policy and community engagement director for the Texas-based nonprofit Intercultural Development Research Association, said Kemp’s education agenda is not about protecting parents’ rights.

“This effort is meant to give a small but vocal group of parents the ability to censor what students learn about racism, bigotry and oppression,” Wilson said during a news conference held shortly after the bill signing ceremony.

“Georgia has a complex history with race and racism,” added Andrea Young, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia. “Students and teachers should be free to expand on that history without interference from politicians.”

Under House Bill 1084, Georgia teachers may not teach about history in a way that might make any student feel guilty or that they are superior or inferior to anyone else because of their race. It also prohibits teaching that the United States has been a systemically racist country.

A second component in the bill is aimed at transgender student athletes. After a standalone measure banning transgender students born male from participating in girls’ sports failed to get through the General Assembly, Republican legislative leaders inserted into House Bill 1084 a provision giving the Georgia High School Association the authority to review the issue and come up with a policy.

As the bill went through the legislature, supporters argued transgender students born male have built-in advantages in speed and strength that put girls born female at a competitive disadvantage. Most often cited was the case of Lia Thomas, a transgender swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania who won an NCAA championship in a women’s event.

The Parents’ Bill of Rights gives parents the right to review curriculum and other instructional material during the first two weeks of every nine-week grading period.

Principals or superintendents who receive a request for information from a parent will have three working days to provide it. Parents not satisfied with a local school’s decision on a request can appeal to the school district and, beyond that, to the state.

Kemp also signed bills putting in place a process for removing obscene materials from school libraries, raising the cap on a state tax credit program that funds private-school scholarships to $120 million a year, and allowing retired teachers to return to classrooms in high-need areas.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Kemp signs bill giving GBI power to handle election fraud complaints

Photo by Beau Evans

ATLANTA – The Georgia Bureau of Investigation will have the power to investigate complaints of election fraud on its own under legislation Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law Wednesday.

The GBI component was part of a much larger election reform package Republican legislative leaders tried to get through the General Assembly this year. When the other provisions ran into opposition from local elections officials, supporters attached the GBI language to a different bill mostly related to the transmission of criminal case data and passed it along party lines during the legislative session’s final hour.

The legislation is a follow-up to a more comprehensive measure the General Assembly passed last year that among other things added a voter ID requirement for absentee ballots and restricted the location of absentee ballot drop boxes.

“Building on the strong, common-sense measures in our Election Integrity Act of 2021, this new law will allow us to engage highly qualified personnel from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to assist in ensuring our elections are secure and fair,” Kemp said Wednesday.

The fiscal 2023 budget lawmakers adopted early this month includes $504,116 to hire additional GBI personnel to handle election investigations.

Legislative Democrats argued that giving the GBI the ability to launch investigations of alleged election fraud unilaterally without being called in by local prosecutors – including subpoena power – would contribute to voter suppression through intimidation.

Republicans countered that the GBI has been handing such investigations for years and has the resources to do a professional job.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Internal poll shows Walker with 10-point lead over Warnock

Herschel Walker

ATLANTA – Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker is leading incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock by 10 points, according to a poll released Wednesday by a political action committee supporting the University of Georgia football great.

The survey of 2,500 registered Georgia voters put Walker at 51.4%, compared to 41% for Warnock. The poll was conducted from April 3 through April 16 via landline telephones, cellphones and texts by Alexandria, Va.-based Grassroots Targeting on behalf of Walker’s 34N22 PAC.

34N22 noted in a memo that Walker has built a double-digit lead despite the Warnock campaign blanketing the airwaves with more than $7 million so far this year in ad spending.

“Barring a monumental shift in the political landscape, Herschel Walker is in prime position to be the next United States senator from the state of Georgia,” Republican strategist and Grassroots Targeting founder and CEO Blaise Hazelwood wrote in the memo.

Walker can afford to look beyond next month’s Republican primary to a November general election matchup with Warnock. The GOP frontrunner is polling well ahead of several other Republican Senate hopefuls, whose combined support doesn’t come close to matching his numbers.

The Grassroots Targeting poll also found President Joe Biden’s approval ratings on the decline in Georgia. Only 43.8% of voters surveyed approve of the job Biden is doing, while his approval rating among independents was even lower at 41.9%.

The poll found Warnock’s approval rating at 45.2%.

Warnock has only token Democratic primary opposition in his bid to win a full six-year term in the Senate. He won the seat in a special election runoff in January of last year, defeating incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler, who had been appointed to the Senate by Gov. Brian Kemp following the retirement of the late Sen. Johnny Isakson in 2019.

The poll had a margin of error of plus-or-minus 1.96%.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Kemp signs tax cut bill

Gov. Brian Kemp

ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp signed the largest tax cut in Georgia history Tuesday, legislation he said when fully implemented will save a family of four with an annual household income of $60,000 more than $600 a year.

The bill, which the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed early this month, will gradually reduce the state income tax rate from 5.49% to 4.99% over six years, starting with the 2024 tax year. The current tax rate is 5.75%.

Kemp and legislative Republican leaders pushed through the election-year tax cut at an opportune time, when the state is sitting on a huge budget surplus coming out of the pandemic.

“Government should take in the least amount possible needed to serve the people properly,” Kemp said during a signing ceremony in Bonaire, the hometown of Georgia House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Shaw Blackmon, the tax cut bill’s chief sponsor. “Taxpayer dollars are the people’s money, not the government’s.”

Kemp said the income tax cut represents the long-term component of a tax reduction package lawmakers approved this year, including a one-time $1.1 billion tax refund, a temporary suspension of the state’s gasoline sales tax to put a dent in rising pump prices, and legislation he signed last week exempting military retirees from the state income tax.

“We can’t fix everything Washington has broken,” he said. “But we’re doing our part to lessen the pain on people’s wallets in Georgia.”

During the legislative debate, Democrats argued most of the income tax cut’s benefits would go to the wealthiest Georgians.

“The shift to a flat tax structure would weaken the state’s ability to respond to the needs of its residents, while also exacerbating racial and income inequality by widening the gap between the wealthiest and all other Georgians,” said Danny Kanso, senior tax and budget policy analyst with the progressive Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

“The General Assembly should require those at the top to pay their fair share with a graduated income tax and consider rolling back itemized deductions, corporate subsidies and other tax breaks that disproportionately benefit the wealthiest.”

On the other hand, former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who is challenging Kemp in next month’s Republican gubernatorial primary, is calling for eliminating the state income tax entirely.

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, criticized Kemp Tuesday for not declaring publicly whether he supports abolishing the tax.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.