ATLANTA — Last year Gov. Brian Kemp signed a new law that radically changed how a few select officeholders or party nominees raise money for their campaigns.
Now gubernatorial candidate David Perdue and his campaign are fighting it.
Perdue's camp filed a federal lawsuit, calling it unconstitutional.
The law, SB 221, took effect last summer and allows Kemp and a few other top lawmakers and party nominees to create special committees that can raise unlimited contributions from donors, including during legislative sessions. It does not, however, allow anyone fighting for an office seat, like Perdue, to raise the same kind of unlimited funds.
"This law is is different and extraordinary in the sense that it was passed in order to benefit an incumbent in a way that has not been done traditionally," said Anthony Kreis, a law professor at Georgia State University.
11 Alive spoke to Professor Kreis to break down what Perdue's lawsuit means and what could happen next. Read the Q&A below.
What does the federal lawsuit filed by the Perdue campaign outline?
The federal lawsuit filed by Perdue and his campaign alleges that the law creates “an uneven election playing field” and asks a judge to declare it unconstitutional.
There are two claims listed within the lawsuit, according to Kreis.
"The first thing that David Perdue is claiming is that there is a violation of his free speech rights. This is because what Gov. Kemp's campaign law essentially allows him to do is air a bunch of ads with this unrestricted amount of money. David Perdue doesn't have the same ability to respond because he can't raise the same kind of money, so there's a restriction on his free speech rights under the First Amendment," Kreis said.
"The second thing is the distinction that is drawn between an incumbent and a challenger which makes it harder for a challenger to campaign against a sitting governor or lieutenant governor or some other folks," the professor added. "This has an equal protection problem because it treats David Perdue differently as a non-sitting governor than it does Gov. Kemp."
What happens after Perdue's federal lawsuit is filed?
"The state has to justify Gov. Kemp's law based on a rational basis. They have to have some plausible reason for this law and give a justification. Also to be clear, the state's threshold here is pretty low," Kreis said.
The real problem for Kemp will come next, the professor said.
"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."
What happens if the law is not justified by the state?
"The federal court has the power to stop the state from enforcing the law. The remedy might then be essentially that Gov. Kemp and former Sen. Perdue in the gubernatorial campaign would have the same capacity to raise unlimited funds, and someone like Stacey Abrams would also have that capacity," Kreis said. "It would create the same rule for everybody running for statewide office."
Kreis also outlined an alternative, saying it could work out in Kemp's favor.
"On the other hand, the court could find that the burden is not met by former Sen. Perdue and the law would proceed as written. It depends on how strong of a case the court thinks that former Sen. Perdue has," the professor said.
11Alive also reached out to Stacey Abrams's campaign office for her response to Perdue's lawsuit which was provided below.
“Brian Kemp hid from the media and signed a law that gave himself an exclusive ability to raise and spend multi-million dollar contributions during the primary to attack David Perdue. It’s no surprise that Perdue doesn’t want Georgians to be reminded of the record they rejected when they elected Senator Ossoff. None of the Kemp-Perdue food fight will create jobs, expand health care access or strengthen education, but Stacey Abrams will," said Seth Bringman, spokesman for the Abrams campaign.
To find out more about new laws in Georgia click here.