A federal judge has declared that Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams cannot raise unlimited campaign funds, despite a state fundraising law that allows her likely opponent, current Gov. Brian Kemp (R), to do so.
State law allows incumbent governors and their challengers from the opposing major political party to form “leadership committees” to raise unlimited funds from supporters in the state. But while incumbents are allowed to set up a committee for such purposes right away, the statute bars Abrams from doing so until after she becomes the Democratic Party’s official nominee, following the state’s primary elections.
Kemp established his leadership committee in July of last year, after signing into law the bill that created the rule in the first place. Abrams will not be allowed to create a similar committee until late May at the earliest.
Lawyers for Abrams had argued in their lawsuit that the elections law gave incumbents an unfair advantage, and that Abrams — who doesn’t have any challengers in the Democratic primary — should be allowed to set up her own leadership committee now as the presumptive nominee, with the same rules applied to it that Kemp has.
Judge Mark Cohen, a federal judge in the Northern District of Georgia, disagreed with those assertions, writing in his order that any ruling in favor of Abrams would amount to rewriting state law.
“Granting plaintiffs’ requested relief … would require this court to effectively rewrite the statute to recognize Abrams as the Democratic Party nominee before she has been selected in a primary,” Cohen said.
In response to the ruling, Abrams’s campaign manager, Lauren Groh-Wargo, said that it was imperative that her supporters “give whatever they can” to her election campaign.
While the order from Cohen gives the Republican incumbent governor a significant advantage, the federal judge has placed some limits on how Kemp can use funds he raises for his leadership committee, ruling earlier this year that Kemp can’t access those funds until he, too, wins his primary contest. Still, Kemp’s ability to raise funds through the committee for months longer than Abrams is allowed to will give him a significant advantage once the general election campaign begins.
Kemp, who is running against former U.S. Sen. David Perdue (R-Georgia), is expected to win the primary, possibly without the need for a runoff race beyond the initial May 24 election.
Recent polling shows that Kemp is presently ahead of Abrams by a 7-point margin. However, the race, which is a rematch of Kemp’s and Abrams’s highly contentious 2018 gubernatorial election, could be much closer than that poll suggests, depending on each candidate’s ability to turn out their supporters in the general election this fall.