State ethics agency drops charges in Abrams fundraising probe as campaign steams ahead

Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams talks to the media during Georgia's primary election on Tuesday, May 24, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

The Georgia agency charged with enforcing campaign finance laws on Tuesday dismissed two charges against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams connected to her 2018 campaign. 

The State Ethics Commission dismissed the charges based on documentation that shows the Abrams campaign did not illegally receive donations from two supporting organizations, while other forms cleared up questions about an expense charged during her 2018 run as a Democrat against Republican winner Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.

Tuesday marked the latest development in the wide-spanning investigation into whether the Abrams team coordinated with groups to help her election in 2018. The probe is playing out in the background as she renews her rivalry with Kemp in another race to claim the governor’s mansion.

The two fundraising giants have raised record donations as the Nov. 8 general election approaches in a bitter contest that’s receiving national attention.

The Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission’s probe has been labeled a witch hunt by Abrams’ team, as the majority-Republican appointed board formerly known as the State Ethics Commission signed off on subpoenas for Abrams’ campaign bank records and emails.

The investigation ramped up when executive secretary David Emadi took the agency’s helm in the spring of 2019, when he followed up on a complaint from 2018.

The probe has examined Abrams’ campaign communication with several nonprofit organizations and political action committees that donated money for her campaign

But on Tuesday, there was no apparent tension inside the room as the commission attorney Joe Cusack and Abrams’ attorney Joyce Gist Lewis watched the board unanimously vote to drop the two cases.

Cusack said an Abrams disclosure report was amended to reflect that a donation from Gente4Abrams, a Latino-based group, that did fall within a timeline allowed under state law. The complaint had looked into whether Abrams’ campaign illegally accepting money before she declared her intent to run in 2018.

“That single count stems from the filings which showed the in-kind contributions that had occurred the date prior to (Abrams) filing that July,” Cusack said.

“What Ms. Lewis was able to get to me were actual invoices from the campaign that showed those were actually a day later after the (declaration of intent) had been filed.”

In 2020, the ethics commission did fine Gente4Abrams for not properly reporting the money spent during Abrams’ primary campaign.

Cusack on Tuesday also said Abrams’s team submitted documentation and an affidavit from the campaign manager verifying an invoice filed in 2018 by a law firm.

Ethics Commission Chairman James Kreyenbuhl said cooperation between Abrams and the commission to settle these cases showed the system worked.

“I think this is a perfect example of both sides working together, supplying the information that the Commission needs to show that Ms. Abrams was in compliance,” he said.

This story was provided by WABE content partner Georgia Recorder.