Abrams' voting rights group paid millions to campaign chair in legal fees, report
Abrams' group spent about $22 million on one case against the Georgia Secretary of State, more than three times what the state spent.
The voting rights group founded by Georgia gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams reportedly spent over $25 million in legal fees over two years, with most of the money going to one case and the largest amount toward the law firm of Abrams' close friend and chairwoman of her campaign, raising questions about such a large sum and possible conflicts of interest.
Allegra Lawrence-Hardy, Abrams' friend who chaired the Georgia Democrat gubernatorial nominee's 2018 campaign and her current bid, is a partner in the law firm Lawrence & Bundy, Politico reported Monday.
Abrams' group, Fair Fight Action, gave $9.4 million to Lawrence-Hardy's firm in 2019 and 2020, the most recently available tax filings show. The payments were largely for a court case against Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, alleging that the state's election system was flawed and discriminatory.
The voting rights group lost on all three claims last month.
Fair Fight Action also paid $8.6 million in legal fees for Jenner & Block, $2.4 million for Miller & Chevalier Chartered and $1.6 million for KaiserDillon, according to tax filings.
By contrast, the state of Georgia spent less than $6 million defending the secretary of state's office, state officials said.
"It is a very clear conflict of interest because with that kind of close link to the litigation and her friend that provides an opportunity where the friend gets particularly enriched from this litigation," said Craig Holman, a campaign ethics expert at the non-partisan advocacy group Public Citizen. "The outcome of that litigation can directly affect her campaign itself."
Norm Eisen, an Obama administration ethics adviser, whom Fair Fight Action asked to contact POLITICO to comment on this story, said he did not see anything untoward about Abrams’ group hiring her friend and campaign chairwoman.
“It happens all the time," he told Politico. "It is the way our system is built, that the political leaders and the policy leaders are one in the same. So this is not unique ... ."
The roughly $25 million spent in legal fees has also raised concerns about such a large amount.
"The typical case is a couple of hundred thousand dollars and can take a couple of years," said Leah Aden, deputy director for litigation at the Legal Defense Fund, which advocates for civil rights and racial justice, per Politico. She cited a case in Texas in which five plaintiffs sought about $8.8 million in legal fees after the verdict as the most expensive she had seen.
"Beyond $10 million would be very shocking, I would say,” Aden said.
Abrams resigned as chairwoman of Fair Fight Action before announcing her second run for governor, but she participated in fundraising and led the group when it filed the original case. She is now attempting to unseat Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, to whom she lost in 2018.