ATLANTA - Three gubernatorial campaigns were the target of ethics complaints this week, as early voting begins in just over a week in Georgia’s nationally watched elections.
Both the Stacey Abrams and Casey Cagle campaigns were the targets of complaints from Georgia Ethics Watchdogs, while Abrams’ campaign filed a complaint against her Democratic primary opponent, Stacey Evans.
William Perry, executive director of Georgia Ethics Watchdogs, filed a complaint against Abrams for more than $80,000 of unspecified reimbursements from her campaign committees.
“Simply stating that a candidate was reimbursed does not identify how the money was spent, and does not prove that the money did not go to the candidate for personal use,” Perry said. “I hope Ms. Abrams will provide the information for everything she was reimbursed for that did not name a recipient.”
"We welcome any opportunity to improve transparency and provide voters with the information they need to see that Stacey Abrams is the best choice for governor," said Abrams' campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo, in response to Perry's complaint.
Perry also is complaining that Cagle, the GOP gubernatorial primary's fundraising leader, used a state-owned aircraft to travel to Savannah in November 2016.
“It appears the only event he attended was a fundraiser for the federal PAC Georgia Conservative Fund, which will be supporting his campaign for governor with millions of dollars in TV ads or other support,” Perry said.
Perry said Cagle helped raise $200,000 for the fund.
“There were no other events on his public schedule and none were touted on social media,” Perry said. “If it’s true, then the cost of this flight would be considered a contribution to the campaign committee by a public agency, and thus, Cagle would be accepting such a contribution.”
“The silly season is upon us," said Cagle campaign manager Scott Binkley. "Casey did an official event in Savannah on that trip, speaking about workforce issues to the Georgia Hospital Association. This type of activity is exactly what his official office travel budget is for.
"Casey spends those funds conservatively, using half of what his office budget allows for air travel every year," Binkley said. "The vast majority of the trips he takes by air are for destinations that are more than five hours away by car. This is the biggest state east of the Mississippi, and Casey uses air travel sensibly to serve every corner of the state.”
Abrams’ campaign is alleging Evans has created an organization called Hope for Georgia to raise secret, unlimited contributions, a 501(c)4 organization that is being coordinated by Evans’ campaign staffers.
“By their own statements, Hope for Georgia was established to circumvent the law by shielding donors from disclosure,” said Groh-Wargo.
“On April 18, 2018, Joshua White, an agent and recent employee of the Stacey Evans for Governor campaign, sent an email to unnamed individuals soliciting funds for the recently formed 501(c)4,” Groh-Wargo said. “The email states the purpose of the c4 as “We moved everything to a c4 structure for donor privacy.
“The email makes clear that Hope for Georgia is to support the candidacy of Stacey Evans," Groh-Wargo said. "We're saddened the Evans campaign is running an old playbook to attack and smear, and has now gone a step further by forming a dark money group to circumvent campaign laws and shield donors from disclosure."
“The complaint filed by Abrams’ campaign manager is frivolous,” said Evans campaign spokesperson Seth Clark. “It is filled with factual inaccuracies and false assertions. The people of Georgia would be better served if the Abrams campaign concentrated on debating the issues and lived up to Ms. Abrams’ claim of transparency by accounting for the $84,000 she took from her political accounts without explanation.
“And it’s unfortunate that it seems the Abrams campaign has chosen to respond in this manner to the ethics complaint filed against her by Georgia Ethics Watchdogs.”
Early voting begins April 30 in the May 22 general primary. Seven Republicans and two Democrats are running to replace incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal, who cannot run for a third term.