Perdue Kemp composite

A federal judge handed former Sen. David Perdue a win Monday in a courtroom battle over fundraising in his Republican primary campaign to oust Gov. Brian Kemp.

Kemp can no longer use a special leadership committee to raise unlimited funds during the legislative session leading into the primary election, though the committee can still raise money for other candidates.

“This ruling is a major win and sends a strong message that political corruption will not be tolerated,” Perdue said in a statement. “In the dark of night, Brian Kemp signed a shady backroom deal to try and rig this race in his favor, and the people of Georgia aren’t going to let him get away with it. The Court’s ruling goes to show that a 20-year career politician like Kemp will do anything to try and save himself. Kemp has lost his slush fund and is going to lose this election.”

Prior to last year, when Kemp signed a bill allowing for the creation of leadership committees for high-ranking officials to fundraise during the legislative session, lawmakers were prohibited from accepting donations during the General Assembly to prevent the appearance of corruption. Kemp’s lawyers argued that the changed law was fair and that restricting the cash flow to the leadership committee would harm the free speech of those who wanted to contribute.

Perdue’s team said it was unfair that two candidates for the same office should have different limits on the cash they can take in.

In his decision, U.S. District Court Judge Mark H. Cohen sided with Perdue.

“The new law leaves Perdue subject to a maximum contribution limit of $7,600 while Gov. Kemp can raise unlimited contributions through his leadership committee, Georgians First,” Cohen wrote.

Kemp’s team argued that the law is designed to promote transparency and makes corruption less likely because it reduces the number of candidates who are no longer subject to contribution limits, a claim Cohen said “defies logic.”

“To the contrary, rather than addressing quid pro quo corruption, (the law) removes the regulatory contribution limit safeguards that were previously established to combat quid pro quo corruption,” he wrote. “If anything, permitting unlimited campaign contributions in abrogation of the longstanding regulatory scheme limiting such contributions risks more corruption.”

Ruling doesn’t affect outside organizations

Cohen noted that people can still donate to outside political organizations that support Kemp for governor.

“In fact, for the individual who does not want his or her contribution to be disclosed as a contribution to the governor’s leadership committee, it may be a more attractive option not to contribute to the leadership committee and instead continue to provide donations to an independent committee supporting the governor’s re-election,” he wrote.

The committee raised more than $2.3 million as of Jan. 31, according to a report filed with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission Monday.

The report lists 111 donors with amounts ranging from $26.03 from a Nebraska rancher to two gifts of $250,000 from Elizabeth Uihlein, cofounder of Wisconsin-based shipping business Uline and California-based Majestic Realty.

Perdue’s ex-colleague, former Sen. Kelly Loeffler, donated more than $37,000 in airfare in July, before Perdue entered the race.

The committee reported more than $1.7 million in expenditures with $1 million of that going to Ohio-based FlexPoint Media.

The decision will by no means transform Kemp into a pauper, said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock. Kemp told Fox News in January he had raised $7 million between July and the start of the session.

“He’s going to have plenty of money,” Bullock said. “And indications are, going back to that letter that was signed by all but 10 or so of the Republican senators encouraging Perdue not to run, he seems to be tight with a lot of the Republican legislators, so it’s not like he has no friends and no money.”

Vernon Jones endorses Perdue

But the Perdue campaign also made a new friend Monday when former Democratic state Rep. Vernon Jones dropped out of the race and gave Perdue his endorsement.

Jones announced he would instead run for Congress in east Georgia’s 10th Congressional District, where Republican Congressman Jody Hice is leaving Congress to run for secretary of state. Georgia law does not require members of Congress to live in the districts they represent.

Jones is an ally of former president Donald Trump, who views the race as part of a vendetta against the governor because Kemp did not intervene to illegally flip the 2020 election in Trump’s favor.

Trump has endorsed Perdue, who is likely hoping Jones’ departure could bring more of the former president’s biggest fans over to his column.

A January Quinnipiac poll found Kemp had the support of 43% of likely Republican primary voters compared with 36% for Perdue and 10% for Jones.

Perdue was quick to embrace the long-time Democrat Jones.

“Vernon Jones is a conservative patriot who cares deeply about Georgia,” he said in a statement. “We need his voice and we need him in the fight. I’m proud to have his support of our Trump-endorsed campaign.”

Perdue has good reason to party, Bullock said.

“The kind of notion is that Kemp has his supporters lined up,” he said. “They know who he is, they like him, they voted for him four years ago, et cetera, et cetera. But when an incumbent is a known quantity, then people who are anti-incumbent, they may be looking for anybody other than the incumbent, so I would think most of those Jones supporters would probably gravitate toward Perdue.”

Bullock said he predicts a close primary race ahead of a showstopper main event against presumed Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams.

Abrams’ campaign also celebrated Jones’ exit.

“The Republican primary is now a two-candidate race of David Perdue and Brian Kemp, whose nasty fight will do nothing to help our state,” the campaign said in a statement. “As Kemp and Perdue fight each other, Stacey Abrams will be fighting for Georgia.”

Abrams will no doubt relish watching her two strongest competitors focusing their fire on one another rather than her, Bullock said, but the downside for Democrats is that Jones’ leaving the race lowers the possibility of a runoff, which would drag out the inter-party battle.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence.

Before joining the Georgia Recorder, Ross Williams covered local and state government for the Marietta Daily Journal.Williams' reporting took him from City Hall to homeless camps, from the offices of business...