ATLANTA — Gov. Brian Kemp is preparing to lodge an ethics complaint against former Sen. David Perdue in their gubernatorial Republican primary battle, alleging Perdue's campaign has improperly coordinated its efforts with an independent political campaign committee.
The complaint follows on the heels of Perdue's camp filing a lawsuit against a campaign finance law signed into law last year by the governor that critics and experts have said is designed to advantage incumbents, including Kemp.
The complaint, which 11Alive obtained an advance copy of as it is being filed with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, alleges that instructions for donating directly to Perdue's campaign, Perdue for Governor, Inc., on the WinRed website of the Georgia Values Fund, an independent committee, violate state campaign financing laws.
On the bottom of the Georgia Values Fund page, there are directions for making a donation by mail, which say, "please send a personal check made payable to 'Perdue for Governor, Inc.'" Additionally, there is language at the bottom of the site soliciting cell phone numbers to "opt-in to Perdue for Governor campaign alerts, updates and news."
The complaint states: "Georgia Values Fund’s webpage contains express advocacy in support of David Perdue. Moreover, given the disclaimer language seeking donor mobile phone numbers, referenced contribution limits of Perdue for Governor, and directions for donors to mail contributions to Perdue for Governor, it appears that the webpage was established with the cooperation or consent of David Perdue, his agents, or authorized committee."
The complaint is asking the state ethics commission for a "full investigation into all communications between Perdue for Governor, including Mr. Perdue’s agents, and Georgia Values Fund and its agents... in addition to investigating the mobile numbers collected by Georgia Values Fund for Perdue and any contributions mailed to Perdue for Governor as a result of Georgia Values Fund’s WinRed webpage."
The complaint further asks the commission to "take all appropriate action to halt such behavior and assess appropriate penalties under Georgia law."
11Alive reached out to the Perdue campaign for a response to the complaint. While Perdue was not available for an interview, Jenni Sweat, a spokeswoman for his campaign released the following statement: “This is laughable and desperate. Senator Perdue is not associated with any state PACs, and we can’t speak to the independent activities of outside groups. The person who should be investigated for ethics violations in this race is Brian Kemp. Using his power as the incumbent Governor, Kemp changed Georgia law in an attempt to rig this race in his favor. He gave himself a massive fundraising advantage and is able to fully coordinate with his so-called leadership committee that he chairs, while challengers like Perdue play by different rules. That's unconstitutional and corrupt, and it just goes to show that a 20-year career politician like Kemp will do anything to save himself. Kemp knows he’s going to lose that lawsuit, lose his slush fund, and lose this election.”
Kemp's campaign spokesperson, Cody Hall, issued a statement saying: "From shady stock trades to blatant campaign finance law violations, David Perdue has a long history of breaking the rules to benefit himself. The Perdue campaign's actions are clearly against the law, and directly reflect the repeated lack of ethical conduct by Perdue himself."
In 2020, then-Sen. Perdue faced legal scrutiny over his stock trades at the outset of the pandemic and in at least one medical device company that saw a price jump as Congress was trying to manage the opioid crisis.
His campaign at the time said federal investigators cleared Perdue of any wrongdoing regarding stock trades, and that he did not "handle the day-to-day decisions of his portfolio."
Earlier this month Perdue's campaign filed a lawsuit against SB 221, a law passed last year that created new campaign financing rules for a small handful of Georgia office-holders and other political candidates, allowing them to raise unlimited funds.
The text of SB 221 provides for a new kind of campaign fundraising vehicle, called a "leadership committee," that facilitates the changes.
They can be formed by the governor or lieutenant governor, or "the nominee of a political party for Governor selected in a primary election in the year in which he or she is nominated, or the nominee of a political party for Lieutenant Governor selected in a primary election in the year in which he or she is nominated."
The second part is crucial for Perdue, because it means Kemp can outraise him, without limits, through the entire primary campaign. Only if Perdue wins the nomination would he then be allowed the same fundraising freedom under the law.
Georgia State University law professor Anthony Kreis told 11Alive's Dalia Perez last week that the lawsuit against the law has a substantial chance of succeeding.
"It's not obvious to me, and I think to many people what the rationale is here with Gov. Kemp's law except to protect the incumbent and to give incumbents in elected office a leg up in the in the reelection process," he said. "That alone does not seem to be a permissible reason for legislating under the constitution. I certainly think that the Perdue campaign will have a strong case to be made or to make here. I suspect that the federal courts will take his argument seriously."