Stacey Abrams Associate Reaps Millions from her Nonprofit
A voting rights nonprofit founded by Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams paid $9.4 million in “legal fees” to a boutique law firm co-owned by her campaign chair, Allegra Lawrence-Hardy. The sum is based on tax filings from 2019 and 2020 with two additional years of billing yet to be disclosed.
Lawrence-Hardy is a longtime friend of Abrams’s who chaired her failed contest against Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (R) in 2018. That same year, Abrams founded a voting rights nonprofit called Fair Fight Action and used it to sue the secretary of state’s office. Lawrence-Hardy served as lead counsel in the suit.
After losing the election to Kemp by roughly 55,000 votes, Abrams claimed the contest was “rigged” and accused the governor of engaging in voter suppression. She said that “tens of thousands” of votes had been “rejected due to human error and a system of suppression that had already proven its bias.”
Fair Fight Action v. Raffensperger accuses state officials of supporting an election system that violates the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. Complaints detailed in the suit include: unreasonably long lines and wait times at polls, improper maintenance of voting rolls, inadequate training of poll staff, and the impact of ID requirements on minority voters. Abrams even questioned the integrity of voter machines and claimed some had been hacked to “change” votes from her name to Kemp’s.
Abrams took particular issue with the “exact-match” rule, which forces voters to present a second form of identification if the name on their ID does not precisely match the name listed on the voter roll. Abrams claimed the rule placed an undue burden on voters – especially those with non-Anglo Saxon names – and produced a decrease in voter turnout.
Slowed by the coronavirus pandemic, Fair Fight Action v. Raffensperger dragged on until September of 2022 and became the largest voting rights challenge on record in the 11th Circuit Court.
The challenge against voter suppression galvanized the Democratic Party and buoyed Fair Fight, which raked in more than $61 million in donations in 2019 and 2020.
Though Abrams would ultimately lose the case, the legal battle increased her name recognition and resulted in a financial windfall for for friend, Lawrence-Hardy.
“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,” explains Craig Holman, an expert on campaign finance and ethics at the non-partisan consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen.
As revealed by Politico, another of Abrams’s pals – who runs Fair Fight’s PAC – paid his sister and a friend tens of thousands of dollars for “consulting services.” Neither individual has experience in politics.
All told, Fair Fight spent more than $25 million on legal fees related to lawsuit.
“The typical case is a couple of hundred thousand dollars and can take a couple of years,” notes Leah Aden, deputy director for litigation at the Legal Defense Fund. “Beyond $10 million would be very shocking.”
To compare, the state of Georgia spent about $6 million on the case in defense of the secretary of state’s office.
Fair Fight Action v. Raffensperger ended last month with a 288-page ruling in which Judge Steve Jones wrote, “Although Georgia’s election system is not perfect, the challenged practices violate neither the Constitution nor the [Voting Rights Act].”
Abrams is running against Governor Kemp again this year. And though she retired from Fair Fight’s board of directors in 2021, her gubernatorial campaign received a donation from the nonprofit worth an estimated $542,000.
The advocacy group also donated $1.5 million to Abrams’ leadership PAC.