ATLANTA — Earlier this month, Gov. Brian Kemp signed a new law that radically changes how a few select officeholders or party nominees raise money for their campaigns.
The law, SB 221, will take effect this summer, and will play a major role in the fundraising wars for next year's governor's race.
Its been scrutinized for creating what critics characterize as a two-tiered system of campaign finance - one in which the traditional rules apply, and one where a carve-out for certain key races will allow limitless spending.
So how does it actually work?
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, because while by the letter of the law it extends equal consideration to the opposition party, in practice a party doesn't choose its nominee for these offices until a few months before the election - leaving that candidate far less time to raise funds through their "leadership committee" than the sitting governor or lieutenant governor, who effectively would be able to use their committee to raise funds year-round.
How much can they raise?
As much as they can get.
Under pre-existing law, there are campaign contribution limits in Georgia that, according to the state ethics commission, amount to $7,000 for a primary and $7,000 for a general election (with smaller amounts allowed for runoffs) in statewide races - such as those for governor and lieutenant governor.
The part of the law outlining those limits is Section 21-5-41 of the Georgia Code. SB 221 makes these new "leadership committees" a clear exception to that law:
"The contribution limits in Code Section 21-5-41 shall not apply to contributions to a leadership committee or expenditures made by a leadership committee in support of a candidate or a group of named candidates," the new law states.
Campaign finance law is complex, and there have always been exceptions to the rules that have allowed candidates to raise more than the max from individuals or organizations. But this law doesn't apply even a nominal alternative fundraising limit, leaving a leadership committee free to raise all the cash it wants.
What else is affected?
The new law also extends to the Republican and Democratic leaders in the Georgia House and Senate - legislative races that are subject under existing law to even smaller campaign contribution maximums than the statewide races, and that House Speaker David Ralston, for instance, will now be able to bypass.
The law has also raised objections from third parties. The Georgia Libertarian Party has said Georgia law only classifies "political parties" as the Republican and Democratic Party, and that other parties are officially deemed "political bodies."
So in writing the law to specifically apply to parties, the Libertarians and other third-party groups get left out.