Georgia alleges $3 million in unreported expenses by Abrams-founded group

Georgia’s Republican-controlled state ethics commission alleges that the New Georgia Project — the voting rights group founded by Stacey Abrams — failed to disclose more than $3 million in campaign expenses and more than $4 million in political contributions between 2017 and 2019.

  • This makes it one of the most important cases the commission has taken on.

Why is this important: The complaint’s first substantive hearing is expected to take place in the months before a high-profile rematch in November between Abrams and Gov. Brian Kemp, who appoints the majority of the ethics commissioners. The procedure has been stalled in litigation since 2019.

Driving the news: The Georgia Government Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission has tentatively scheduled a hearing for August 1 in its case against the New Georgia Project and the New Georgia Project Action Fund.

  • The commission’s original complaint in 2019 was amended in June to include financial details, according to documents reviewed by Axios.
  • A separate ethics investigation into Abrams’ campaign itself is still ongoing.

Details: The commission alleges that in 2018, the New Georgia Project and the Action Fund illegally solicited Democratic candidates, including Abrams, used phone bank scripts urging people to vote Democratic, and included “#teamAbrams” in posts on social networks asking for donations. It also targets the group to work on a 2019 Gwinnett County MARTA referendum vote.

  • The Action Fund is a 501(c)(4), which is authorized to engage in certain political activities.
  • New Georgia Project is a nonprofit organization and risks losing its tax-exempt status if it engages in partisan advocacy or endorses a candidate.

The committee argues the two operated effectively as a single entity and as a result failed to register as a super PAC or “independent committee” and failed to disclose election expenses.

Catch up fast: The hearing is the latest installment in a long-running fight between the New Georgia Project and the Republican-led state government, including the Ethics Commission and the Office of the Secretary of State, which Abrams and his allies have decried as politically motivated.

  • In 2014, then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office subpoenaed the group for possible voter fraud in its first year of operation.
  • In 2020, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger alleged that the group improperly submitted mail-in ballot applications.
  • The group has fought back along the way, filing lawsuits challenging state voting policies.

Enlarge: Four of the five members of the commission’s board of directors are Republicans. By state law, the governor has three appointees, but one must be a member of the opposing party. The House and Senate leaders appoint the other two. The commission’s executive director was also active in Republican politics and a Kemp donor.

The other side: A spokesperson for the New Georgia Project declined to comment.

In their response to the 2019 lawsuit, attorneys for the New Georgia Project argued that the Action Fund was legally paid as a cold-calling salesperson by other groups and, therefore, was not a ” independent committee” receiving donations.

  • The group’s lawyers also challenged the constitutionality of the underlying Georgian law setting out its committee registration and reporting requirements.

To note : According to Robert Lane, deputy director of the commission, the New Georgia Project has until Monday to respond to June’s amended complaint.

And after: The commission plans to hear both sides of the complaint on Aug. 1 at 10 a.m. to determine whether to hold a second hearing to determine guilt or innocence.

  • The commission has the power to compel entities to “cease and desist”, pay a fine, or it can refer the case for criminal prosecution to the state attorney general.

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