UK Politics

Dark Money Groups, Ethics Complaints Cloud Stacey Abrams VP Prospects

Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden recently hinted at selecting former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacy Abrams as his general election running mate. But Abrams, who blames voter suppression for her loss, is facing a state ethics complaint over alleged “unlawful coordination” with outside dark money groups.

Abrams denies any wrongdoing, but her meteoric rise from obscure statehouse representative to vice-presidential consideration has been enabled by large donations from unknown sources to tax-exempt groups—some of which she founded—and marked by blurred lines between her political activities and the various groups that, at best, skirt election laws.

The groups cited in the complaint include the New Georgia Project Action Fund and the New Georgia Project, Fair Count, Inc., or Third Sector Development, and AFG Group, Inc., which conducts business under the name “Stacey Abrams for Governor.”

These organizations, and others not named in the complaint, have spent millions backing Abrams and stand poised to support her 2020 political aspirations. According to both federal election law and a Georgia law mirroring federal guidelines, it is illegal for such groups to coordinate with a campaign or candidate.

The Federal Elections Commission defines coordination as “made in cooperation, consultation or concert with, or at the suggestion of, a candidate, a candidates authorized committee, or their agents, or a political party committee or its agents.” Coordination also applies when a committee or group pays for communications that are coordinated with a campaign or candidate, and includes in-kind contributions as well as financial expenditures.

The Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission regulates state campaign finance violations and sent subpoenas to the named groups earlier this year to investigate potentially illegal campaign finance activities. The Abrams campaign turned over a trove of documents, but a November state superior court filing asserts that while voluminous, the disclosures fail to include all of the subpoenaed information. The Commission is now asking the court to compel requested disclosures pertaining to communications between the Abrams campaign and these outside groups.

The Abrams campaign is refusing to comply and says a court order would be an unprecedented abuse of power. “The Abrams Campaign conducted good-faith searches of its communications at significant expense, including those it had no obligation to preserve during or after the conclusion of its campaign,…and found zero such communications,” reads the campaigns motion to dismiss, filed on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Lauren Groh-Wargo, who was Abrams 2018 campaign manager, took to Twitter to express outrage at the Commissions investigation, which she characterized as “bogus and politically motivated,” and a “bizarre, time-wasting, tree-killing, and power-abusing nonsense of a nothingburger.”

“Worse,” Groh-Wargo wrote, “if civic organizations that engage voters of color are made victims of retribution by a governor who presided over his own election and silenced the voices of those same voters, the State of Georgia would resemble a Jim Crow-style Banana Republic.”

Abrams would have been the nations first black female governor but fell roughly 55,000 votes short of her Republican opponent and current governor, Brian Kemp, whom she blames for her election loss. Kemp served as Georgias Secretary of State from 2010 until Nov. 8, or two days after the polls closed.

But Abramss close ties to dark money groups and concerns of illicit coordination predate the gubernatorial election, and could persist should she become the running mate for the Democratic presidential nominee.

Abrams was first elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 2007. From 2013 to 2016, millions of dollars in donations poured into two nonprofits she founded, Third Sector Development and Voter Access Institute. The groups netted roughly $12.5 million over the three-year period and Abrams personally benefited by nearly half a million dollars, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The groups continued receiving undisclosed donations during the Atlanta Democrats failed bid for governor.

Abrams has never revealed the sources of the financial support, though the Atlanta Journal-Constitution pegged the George Soros-anchored Democracy Alliance, an out-of-state collection of progressive donor groups, while Abrams herself thanked Soros for being an “early investor” in her non-profit activities. Abrams scoffed on the campaign trial when asked about her dark money donors. “I cant imagine that any man at the head of a non-profit, who achieved what we achieved, and raised the kind of money that we raised, would be asked that question,” she said.

Third Sector Development organized an ambitious multi-year voter registration drive called the New Georgia Project. The 501c3 tax-exempt social welfare organization claims to be “a nonpartisan effort to register and civically engage Georgians.” It has a 501c4 arm that currently says on its website homepage: “Our Closing Argument: Brian Kemp is dangerous for Georgia.”

Third Sector Development rebranded itself earlier this year to “Fair Count,” a dark money group with the mission of making sure “every Georgian is counted” during the 2020 Census—the implication being that illegal immigrants should be included. Abrams supports noncitizen voting in local elections, and has said that Democratic voters include both “documented and undocumentRead More – Source