Gov. Brian Kemp

A federal judge ruled Thursday that Gov. Brian Kemp may not raise additional funds for his reelection bid from a leadership committee until the Republican gubernatorial nomination is decided.

Legislation the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed last year established eight leadership committees to be chaired by Georgia’s governor, lieutenant governor, the general-election nominees opposing those two statewide incumbents and the heads of the majority and minority caucuses of the state House of Representatives and Senate.

Unlike other campaign committees, leadership committees can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money.

Early this year, former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who is challenging Kemp in the May 24 Republican gubernatorial primary, filed suit in federal court charging the law is unconstitutional because it allows incumbent governors to raise money from a leadership committee while challengers can’t.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and her leadership committee One Georgia took the law to court in March, asking that the committee be granted the right to start raising and spending campaign contributions. She argued that since she has no primary opponent, she is already effectively her party’s nominee.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Mark Cohen ordered Kemp’s leadership committee to stop raising money unless and until he becomes the Republican nominee. If Kemp wins the GOP nomination this month or in a June runoff if that becomes necessary, both he and Abrams would then be allowed to activate their leadership committees and, thus, be on a level playing field.

“We are pleased the court both recognized and offered a remedy today for the unconstitutional fundraising advantage Brian Kemp signed into law benefiting himself,” Lauren Groh-Wargo, Abrams’ campaign manager, said following Thursday’s ruling.

“After months and months of Brian Kemp having exclusive ability to raise unlimited funds as a result of the bill he signed, Kemp will no longer be able to raise these funds while Stacey Abrams and One Georgia are denied equal ability to operate under the same rules.”

Legislative Democrats opposed the leadership committee legislation last year, arguing that allowing unlimited campaign contributions would increase the influence of special interests in Georgia politics at a time when public trust in government already is low.

State law limits individual campaign contributions to $14,000 to $22,200 for candidates for statewide posts and $5,600 to $8,600 for those seeking legislative seats, depending on whether a candidate is forced into primary and/or general-election runoffs.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Dave Williams is Capitol Beat bureau chief.

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