The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

From a Stetson Bennett football jersey autographed by Gov. Brian Kemp and a heavily wooded tract of land near Kingsland to congressional pork and cuts in funding for free meals for Georgia school children, money tops the political news in Coastal Georgia:

Kemp PACs

Four days Brian Kemp’s two political action committees hosted high-dollar donors and GOP grandees at Sea Island, the Georgia governor traveled last week to Darien — Darien, Connecticut, that is — where he was the special guest speaker at the annual Lincoln Reagan Dinner put on by the New Canaan Republican Town Committee.

With a population of some 22,000 people, that Darien seems an improbable destination for the Georgia governor. It is the smallest town on Connecticut’s Gold Coast, and both it and surrounding Fairfield County went heavily for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.

What that New England area and New York bedroom suburb represents to the politically ambitious Kemp, however, is a potential mother lode of political contributions to his two fundraising vehicles — the political action committees Hardworking Americans and Georgians First. In 2020, Business Insider ranked Connecticut’s Darien the 10th richest community in America, with a median household income of $352,839. [In comparison, Darien in McIntosh County’s median income was $49.951, in 2021]

It isn’t known how interested donors at the Darien event were directed to send their contributions. But the forays outside Georgia by Kemp, the state’s most prominent Republican, certainly will mean more political heartburn and financial worry for Georgia’s state GOP.

After announcing that he’s skipping the state Republican convention in Columbus next month, Kemp appears to have all but divorced himself from the state GOP.

It hasn’t kept him from selling Georgia, though.

At a silent auction held in conjunction with the Lincoln Reagan dinner to raise money for local Republicans, Kemp’s team offered a framed 2023 national championship Stetson Bennett autographed jersey, also autographed by the governor. That sold for $400. (Starting price: $100). And men’s and women’s University of Georgia hats, also autographed by Kemp, went for $150 (Starting price: $60.)

Carter’s land flip

Last week, The Current’s Mary Landers reported that Rep. Earl “Buddy” Carter has put up for sale a 500-acre parcel of land he bought for $2.05 million in 2018. Asking price: $4.25 million.

The heavily wooded tract is located 10 miles from the site of doomed Spaceport Camden, a project Carter championed but which local voters rejected in a referendum last year.

Carter didn’t report the land purchase on financial disclosure forms required of all members of Congress, later saying it wasn’t an investment but a personal hunting and fishing retreat.  The sale of what Carter’s real estate broker is calling a “plantation” (“That’s just for marketing”) again calls attention to the wealth that Carter amassed as the former owner of a chain of pharmacies in the Savannah area. It’s at odds with Carter’s claim to be “comfortable but not wealthy” and his repeated references to himself as a “small businessman” promoting other small businessmen.

Last year, the non-partisan group Open Secrets, which examines the role of money in politics, estimated his median net worth at $32,346,527. Carter himself has refused to disclose an exact number.

Earmarks close to home

In the latest debate over raising the debt ceiling, Rep. Carter and other House Republicans have been adamant about tying any agreement to do so to budget cuts.

Our credit cards are maxed out” and “It’s time for Washington to cut up the credit cards,” are just two of the talking points Carter has repeated in recent weeks, after months of bemoaning that debt as nothing but intergenerational theft” in his unsuccessful campaign to be elected chair of the House Budget Committee.

But Carter’s tough line on the budget didn’t stop him from requesting federal funds for local projects in the FY2024 budget. He is one of five U.S. representatives in Georgia’s 14-member House delegation who have put in for the so-called “earmarks.”

How Carter decided which local projects to go to bat for is unclear. He has requested $68.03 million for 15 items, the largest of which is a $12 million wastewater treatment expansion plant in Darien — Coastal Georgia’s town — and the smallest is $250,000 for Greater Valdosta United Way’s 2-1-1 service .

In between, there’s $11.35 million for Brunswick Harbor modifications, $4 million for the Savannah Convention Center renovation, and $1.13 million for the Okefenokee Experience Nature Center.

In the Senate, Democrats Raphael Warnock submitted earmarks totaling $1.7 billion and Jon  Ossoff, $898.8 million. For a complete listing of the earmarks compiled by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, click here.

Budget veto victims

Depending on your point of view, Brian Kemp took a scalpel or axe to the $32.4 billion state budget approved by the Georgia General Assembly before he signed it at the site of the Hyundai electric vehicle plant in Bryan County earlier this month.

His 33 pages of vetoes included $26 million for retiree raises, $6 million for bonuses for school custodians, $4 million to boost the pay of psychiatric hospital workers, and $1 million for agriculture positions to help peach, blueberry, and citrus farmers.

Perhaps most surprising was his veto of $6.3 million for free meals for school children. That was on top of the $66 million cut to Georgia’s university system, which lawmakers approved and Kemp did not reverse.

For a complete list of Kemp’s so-called budget “disregards,” click here­­­.

Walker contributions

Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washington has urged the Federal Election Commission to sanction Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker and his company, HR Talent, for “direct and serious violations” of campaign finance laws.

That follows a report that Walker wrote emails asking Montana millionaire, Dennis Washington, for a $600,000 donation, then funneled $535,200 of that amount to HR Talent. Washington subsequently said the money had been returned.

The election watchdog is still urging an investigation, saying the reported return of the funds “does not affect the illegality of Walker soliciting and accepting an excessive contribution.”

Savannah city candidates collection

According to his latest financial disclosure report filed to state election authorities, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson raised $81,569.06 in the three months leading up to April 30, while his main rival in this November’s contest, councilwoman Kesha Gibson-Carter, raised $6,320.26.. 

To date, Johnson has raised more than $351,986.28 in campaign contributions and spent $228,163.51; Gibson-Carter has raised $6,320.26 and spent $2,307.98.

The Tide brings news and observations from The Current’s staff.

Craig Nelson is a former international correspondent for The Associated Press, the Sydney (Australia) Morning-Herald, Cox Newspapers and The Wall Street Journal. He also served as foreign editor for The...