Last week, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed into law Senate Bill 221 (SB 221) creating a new category of political committee under state law that will substantially change the political fundraising and spending landscape in advance of the next round of statewide elections in 2022. The newly-authorized political tool – termed a “leadership committee” – will be allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of dollars for the purpose of influencing state and local elections, defraying candidate campaign costs and assisting current officeholders with expenses related to the fulfillment of public office.
Set to go into effect on July 1, 2021, SB 221 will allow the governor, lieutenant governor, the general election nominees for both those state-wide positions, and the majority and minority caucuses for both the state House and state Senate to create and chair leadership committees that pair the flexibility to accept unlimited contributions with the ability to spend limitless amounts in coordinated support of Georgia state and local candidates and officeholders. Unlike Georgia state PACs, which are able to accept unlimited contributions from donors but limited in their outgoing spending in support of state and local candidates, the newly-created leadership committees will provide Georgia’s top political leaders with a supplemental resource to spend uncapped amounts in support of either their own candidacy or the campaigns of their colleagues.
In addition to the advantage offered by the supplemental spending ability of Georgia’s new leadership committees, these entities will offer senior state political leaders the ability to fundraise to their own political advantage and the benefit of their colleagues during the traditional legislative session blackout period. Under existing Georgia law, members of the General Assembly and public officers elected state wide are not allowed to accept or seek contributions to their principal campaign committees during the course of the state legislative session. SB 221 does nothing to alter this long-standing statutory restriction for relevant candidate committees in Georgia, but the new legislation will allow senior political leaders of both parties to actively solicit donations to and fundraise for leadership committees in the early part of each calendar year. The impact of this change could be profound, particularly for sitting governors, lieutenant governors and legislative leaders who lose out on multiple months of critical fundraising time during the early part of election years while the General Assembly is in session.
Like standard Georgia state PACs and candidate committees, the new leadership committees created by SB 221 will be required to register with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission and report their financial activity on periodic public disclosure reports. Such reports will be made on the same schedule, and in the same manner, as candidate campaign committee disclosures. As such, the identity of donors giving more than $100 in the aggregate to a leadership committee in Georgia during a calendar year will be subject to public disclosure.
With the 2022 statewide elections in Georgia a mere 18 months away, individuals, businesses, trade associations, nonprofits, and other politically active persons should be mindful of the anticipated impact SB 221 will have on political giving in the state moving forward and the increased opportunities donors will have to provide financial support for favored candidates and causes. As the first leadership committees are launched later this year, the Dentons Georgia Public Policy and Political Law Teams will continue to monitor developments in this space, and provide additional legal and policy guidance as needed.