ATLANTA – A “leadership committee” created by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp under a new state law must stop spending money to get the governor reelected during the Republican primary, a federal judge ruled Monday.
Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who's challenging Kemp in the primary, last month filed a lawsuit challenging the new law. Perdue and his campaign allege that the law gives Kemp a significant and unfair fundraising and spending advantage in the primary and asked the judge to declare it unconstitutional.
The law, passed by state legislators last year and signed by Kemp, allows certain top elected officials, including the governor and party nominees, to create leadership committees that can raise campaign funds without limits, including during a legislative session. Just after the law took effect in July, Kemp created the Georgians First Leadership Committee.
U.S. District Judge Mark Cohen found that Perdue's lawsuit was likely to succeed and issued an order granting a preliminary injunction. It immediately prohibits Georgians First from spending money to advocate for Kemp's reelection or his opponent's defeat during the primary and any primary runoff.
But Cohen said the leadership committee can continue to receive contributions and spend money in support of other public officials in accordance with campaign finance laws. The order also doesn't make unlawful any expenditures the committee has already made to support Kemp.
“There's no crying in politics — except when it's David Perdue,” said Kemp campaign spokesman Cody Hall. “We look forward to winning the primary in May and keeping Stacey Abrams' dangerous agenda from taking over our state in November.”
Abrams is the only Democrat running for governor.
Georgia law says candidates for statewide office can’t collect more than $7,600 from an individual donor for a primary or general election and $4,500 for a runoff election. Incumbent officeholders also may not accept contributions during the legislative session. But leadership committees created under the new law are free from both of those restrictions. Also, unlike regular political action committees, which can't coordinate with a candidate, leadership committees can be chaired by the candidate.
Cohen wrote in his order that the U.S. Supreme Court has said imposing different contribution limits on candidates competing for the same office violates the First Amendment. The new law, he wrote, “effectively negates the contribution limit upon which all candidates for Governor in the primary election are bound for just one person: Governor Kemp, the incumbent."
Lawyers for Kemp and other elected officials who were named in the lawsuit had argued that the new law promotes transparency and prevents corruption. But Cohen wrote that it “does little to reduce the potential corruption that is the focus of the ban on receiving contributions during the legislative session.”