New ‘steering committees’ promise to change political financing in Georgia
ATLANTA – Candidates for state office next year will have a lot more money at their disposal thanks to a law that promises to fundamentally change the nature of the campaign in Georgia.
The new law, which will come into force on July 1, authorizes the creation of “steering committees” that can collect and spend unlimited contributions on behalf of the best candidates statewide and legislative. Recipients will also be able to accept donations from committees at any time of the year, including during the General Assembly session.
The Republican-controlled legislature passed the measure this year virtually party-friendly, with Democrats warning that allowing unlimited campaign contributions will increase the influence of special interests in Georgian politics at a time when the confidence of the audience in government is already weak.
“These steering committees are removing all the restrictions that have been put in place over the years to control large sums of money,” State Senator Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta said.
Senate Bill 221 will create eight steering committees that will be chaired by the Governor of Georgia, the Lieutenant Governor, general election candidates opposing these two statewide incumbents, and majority caucus leaders and minority in the House of Representatives and the State Senate.
No ceiling on contributions, but disclosure required
There will be no cap on contributions to committees, which for individual applicants range from $ 14,000 to $ 22,200 for statewide positions and from $ 5,600 to $ 8,600 for legislative seats, depending on whether a candidate is forced to stand in primary and / or general elections.
However, donations to new committees will be subject to the same disclosure requirements that apply to legislative and statewide campaigns under current law, said Edward Lindsey, partner in the firm’s Atlanta office. of Dentons LLP international attorney and former House Majority Whip.
“There is no black money here,” Lindsey said.
Funds can be requested, accepted in session
Steering committees will also not be subject to the law prohibiting office holders and lawmakers across the state from soliciting or accepting campaign contributions during General Assembly sessions.
Lindsey said the change would help office holders better compete with the main challengers under the fast-track schedule adopted in recent years, which moved the party primaries from July to May. Legislative sessions do not generally end before the end of March or the beginning of April.
“Office holders were at a distinct disadvantage… when they were in a position to have to go to the primaries,” said Lindsey.
The law leaves out the main challengers
But Jordan said it is the main challengers – not office holders – who will be disadvantaged by the new law.
While Senate Bill 221 allows the two main incumbents of the state of Georgia and their opponents in the general elections to form steering committees, anyone who wishes to launch a main challenge against one of these incumbents remains subject to the ceiling of the current law on donations and the time limit for contributions.
“If you’re a tough Republican [Gov. Brian] Kemp in a primary, he can collect money during the [legislative] session, ”Jordan said.
Going further, Jordan suggested that perhaps incumbent protection was what Republican leaders had in mind when drafting the bill.
“Since the GOP is very fractured, there is more likelihood of a main challenge,” she said. “It’s a real problem for them. This is how they think they can solve it. “
Lindsey rejected this argument. He said executive committees are not obligated to support incumbents in a primary.
“Nothing prevents the management committees from supporting a candidate,” he said.
Beyond how the new law will affect primary campaigns, opponents are raising the larger question of what unlimited contributions will mean for the role of money in politics.
“This would allow big business and big out-of-state donors to buy our elections,” Common Cause Georgia executive director Aunna Dennis said before a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the draft. law in March.
“In last year’s election, private donors spent $ 24 million on Georgia House races and $ 12.5 million on Georgia Senate races – and that within existing donation limits. This bill would allow unlimited donations, so who knows how much money special interests will be willing to “invest” in our elections. “
Lobbies, corporate donors will pay more
Jordan said unlimited contributions will put pressure on Gold Dome lobbyists to donate larger amounts.
“It’s the worst thing for them because it increases the amount they have to pay to participate in the game,” she said.
Lindsey said the steering committee’s approach to political donations reflects how the process actually works.
“Politics is a team sport,” he said. “To get things done, you need teamwork. This law promotes this philosophy.
This story is available through a partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.