‘This is an inherently political position, but as a former prosecutor, I am comfortable and I have been comfortable making decisions that people may not like…’
(Greg Bluestein and James Salzer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) The 2018 campaign of failed gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams came under scrutiny after Georgia’s ethics commission filed subpoenas investigating a spate of donor groups who may have violated campaign laws.
But echoing Abrams’ own unproven claims of election malfeasance, the chairwoman of the state Democratic Party criticized the investigation, claiming without evidence that ethics chief David Emadi was trying to exact political revenge against Republican Gov. Brian Kemp‘s political opponents.
The subpoenas, obtained by The Atlanta Journal–Constitution, were filed April 26 by Emadi and seek extensive financial, bank and payroll records from the Abrams’ campaign, which raised roughly $30 million in last year’s race against Kemp.
The ethics office also wants all correspondence between the Abrams campaign and a cabal of left-leaning groups that registered and mobilized voters, many with a focus on mobilizing minorities.
They include the group Abrams helped launch and a nonprofit co-founded by state Sen. Nikema Williams, the new leader of the state Democratic Party.
In the documents, Emadi reveals that investigators intend to present evidence that the Abrams campaign accepted donations from four of the groups that exceeded maximum contribution limits for a statewide campaign.
Abrams’ attorney has vigorously denied that claim, said that investigators have failed to prove any wrongdoing and offered full cooperation to clear up any technical violations. She also questioned why investigators only demanded records from groups “led by black or Latinx [sic] Georgians working to increase election participation among voters of color.”
Abrams officials made similar complaints in April, when Emadi said he would move forward with investigations into campaign filings by Abrams and her allies. Agency officials said his predecessor had stalled those probes after audits raised issues with the filings.
Emadi declined to discuss specifics but said all candidates from the 2018 campaign for governor are being audited “without any concern or benefit regarding partisan affiliation.”
The four groups Emadi singled out are Care in Action, a nonprofit that advocates for domestic workers co-founded by Williams; Higher Heights for Georgia, a New York-funded organization geared toward electing black women; PowerPAC Georgia, an “independent group” that spent more than $5.6 million promoting Abrams and attacking Kemp, mostly funded by liberal San Francisco-based philanthropist Susan Sandler; and Gente4Abrams, a Latino advocacy group.
In all, state ethics officials issued nine subpoenas as part of the investigation. They seek documents from several so-called “independent groups”—which are legally barred from coordinating with political candidates—that were formed in Georgia last year to help Abrams.
Several of the groups did not immediately respond to questions about the subpoenas.
The groups targeted by the ethics panel were asked to hand over correspondence with Abrams’ campaign and records involving any spending that promoted Abrams or targeted Kemp.
PowerPAC was also ordered to detail any contact with the New Georgia Project, the voter registration group Abrams helped launch but no longer controls.
The target of the inquiries, if not the scope, came as little surprise.
Emadi, a former Douglas County prosecutor, has said the investigations were spurred by audits of contribution and expenditure reports that candidates and political groups are required to file.
The probe, he said, is part of an effort by state authorities to be more proactive in reviewing reports after his predecessor was accused of stalling probes.
That has led to accusations that Emadi is playing politics by investigating Abrams, who refused to concede the gubernatorial election and continues to maintain, without evidence, that Kemp stole it from her.
The Journal–Constitution reported when he was appointed that Emadi is a former officer in the Douglas County Republican Party who once worked briefly for GOP House Speaker David Ralston. He also donated $600 last year to Kemp’s campaign for governor.
All the stalled cases Emadi said he would restart at his initial press conference involve Democrats or left-leaning groups.
Emadi vowed to prosecute wrongdoers, no matter the party affiliation, though he would not disclose whether he was pursuing any cases against Republicans or conservative groups.
It remained unclear from the left-leaning Journal–Constitution‘s reports whether any such cases against Republicans actually existed and whether Emadi had, in fact, conducted audits of the groups equally.
“I fundamentally believe that to be a neutral arbiter, to be an impartial umpire calling balls and strikes, you can’t affiliate with any of that,” Emadi said. “This is an inherently political position, but as a former prosecutor, I am comfortable and I have been comfortable making decisions that people may not like.”
Abrams’ top aide, Lauren Groh–Wargo, called it “insane political posturing” to cast suspicion on Abrams, who may run against Kemp again in 2022.
In a statement Tuesday, Groh–Wargo drew a line between the Emadi investigation and allegations Kemp made the weekend before the election that the state Democratic Party had participated in an attempt to hack the state’s voter database.
“This move by Brian Kemp’s so-called ‘ethics’ commissioner is an unprecedented abuse of power against his political opponent and specifically targeting organizations that engage voters of color,” said Groh–Wargo, who was Abrams’ campaign manager.
“These intimidation tactics, which are intended to shut down and silence organizations led by Georgians of color, will not stand,” Groh–Wargo said, “and we will fight back against Kemp and his cronies with every tool in our arsenal.”
Abrams’ attorney, Joyce Gist Lewis, wrote Emadi shortly after his press conference that the Democrat has “nothing to hide” and would offer her full cooperation without a subpoena. She added that Abrams would promptly amend any “technical reporting errors” identified by ethics investigators.
Soon after, Emadi wrote claiming that ethics investigators uncovered potential additional violations, including those against the four groups he singled out. He dismissed accusations that he was pursuing a political vendetta, insisting his probe is being conducted in a “fair and impartial manner.”
“It is disappointing that an insinuation to the contrary would be made,” he wrote.
(c)2019 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.