Georgia’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams cannot immediately begin collecting and spending unlimited campaign contributions under a state law passed last year because she is not yet her party’s candidate, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
Abrams and his One Georgia committee filed a lawsuit last month challenging the constitutionality of the new law, which allows certain senior party officials and candidates to create “steering committees” that can raise campaign funds without limits. But they also asked the judge to order the state ethics commission to take no action against them if they continue fundraising before next month’s primaries.
“This court will not rewrite Georgia law to allow One Georgia to stand in the same shoes as an executive committee that plaintiffs believe operates in violation of the First Amendment,” the district judge wrote. American Mark Cohen in his prescription.
The law allows the governor and lieutenant governor, opposing major party candidates, and the two-party caucuses in the State House and Senate to form steering committees. Unlike traditional political action committees, they are allowed to coordinate with a candidate’s campaign.
Steering committees can also raise unlimited contributions, while candidates for statewide office cannot raise more than $7,600 from an individual donor for a primary or general election and $4,500 $ for a second round.
The lawsuit noted that the new law allows Republican Gov. Brian Kemp to raise unlimited funds while Abrams is restricted by contribution limits.
Abrams is the only Democrat qualified to run for governor, meaning she is effectively the party’s nominee, her lawyers argued. State party chairwoman, U.S. Representative Nikema Williams, submitted an affidavit saying Abrams is the party’s nominee.
But state law is unambiguous in requiring that a candidate be selected in a primary election to be considered the nominee, Cohen wrote. Georgia’s primary election is scheduled for May 24.
Abrams and his committee could have followed the path chosen earlier this year by former U.S. Senator David Perdue, who is challenging Kemp in the Republican primary. Perdue sought to prevent Kemp’s governing committee, Georgians First, from soliciting or receiving contributions and to prevent him from spending money to promote his re-election.
Cohen decided in February that Kemp could no longer spend committee money on his primary campaign. But he said the committee could continue to receive contributions and spend money to support other officials in accordance with campaign finance laws. Kemp appealed the decision.
Cohen wrote that Abrams and his committee chose an “untenable option” by asking to be allowed to raise unlimited funds under a law they say is unconstitutional. He also rejected an attempt to block a Georgian state agency from enforcing a law stipulating that a gubernatorial candidate is chosen in a primary.
Cohen’s decision came as no surprise. He was clearly skeptical of Abrams’ demands during a hearing earlier this week.