ATLANTA — Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams can't start raising and spending unlimited campaign contributions under a state law passed last year because she is not yet her party's nominee, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
Abrams and her One Georgia committee filed a lawsuit last month challenging the constitutionality of the new law, which allows certain top elected officials and party nominees to create leadership committees that can raise campaign funds without limits. They asked the judge to order the state ethics commission not to take any action against them if they continue to raise money before the primary next month.
This court will not rewrite Georgia law to allow One Georgia to stand in the same shoes as a leadership committee that, in Plaintiffs view, is in violation of the First Amendment, U.S. District Judge Mark Cohen wrote in his order.
Abrams campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo said after the ruling that it is even more important for supporters to donate directly to the campaign.
The law allows the governor and lieutenant governor to oppose major party nominees, as well as both party caucuses in the state House and Senate to form leadership committees. They are allowed to coordinate with a candidate's campaign unlike traditional political action committees.
The candidates for the statewide office can't collect more than $7,600 from an individual donor for a primary or general election and $4,500 for a runoff election, while leadership committees can collect unlimited contributions.
The lawsuit states that the new law allows Republican Gov. Brian Kemp is allowed to raise unlimited funds while Abrams is limited by the contribution limits.
Abrams is the only Democrat who qualified to run for the governor, which means she is effectively the party's nominee, her lawyers argued. State party chair U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams submitted a sworn statement saying Abrams is the party's nominee.
Cohen wrote that state law is unambiguous in requiring a candidate to be selected in a primary election to be considered the nominee. The primary election for Georgia is set for May 24.
Abrams and her committee could have followed the path chosen earlier this year by former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who is challenging Kemp in the Republican primary. Perdue wanted to stop Kemp's leadership committee Georgians First from soliciting or receiving contributions and to stop it from spending money to promote his re-election.
In February, Cohen ruled that Kemp could not spend any more money from the committee on his primary campaign. He said that the committee could continue to receive contributions and spend money in support of other public officials in accordance with campaign finance laws. Kemp appealed the ruling.
Cohen said that Abrams and her committee chose an untenable option by asking to be allowed to raise unlimited funds under a law they contend is unconstitutional. He opposed the attempt to prevent a Georgia state agency from enforcing a law that says a nominee for governor is chosen in a primary.
Cohen's decision was not a surprise. He was skeptical of Abrams requests at a hearing earlier this week.