Political Insider

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Georgia GOP faces $700K in debt amid tide of legal bills

The Georgia Republican party reports that it faces about $700,000 in debt, much of it from mounting legal bills linked to a racial discrimination lawsuit that was recently settled after three years of litigation.

The state party’s federal financial disclosure, filed late Monday, shows in stark details the financial toll of the lawsuit. All told, about $670,000 was spent on legal fees involving the lawsuit filed by Qiana Keith, a former GOP staffer who claimed her co-workers had referred to her with a racial slur and humiliated her.

That lawsuit targeted former GOP chair John Padgett, who didn’t seek another term as the state party’s leader this summer. The new chair, John Watson, pushed to close the legal case shortly after he took office. Terms were agreed to earlier this year.

Watson inherited a party mired in tough financial straits. Despite holding every statewide office and commanding majorities in the state Legislature, the official party apparatus has long been awash in debt. Federal filings show the party was at least $300,000 in the red for much of this year.

That sum ballooned this month after the lawsuit was settled. In a note to supporters, Watson wrote that the “entirety of this debt was inherited from the past administration and is now being reported after reaching finality on a number of unknown debt amounts.”

The new chairman has also stepped up fundraising efforts and has slashed expenses since winning the post in a heated June election. The party has raised about $760,000 from June 5 to Nov. 20, including about $300,000 in pledges from a recent annual fundraiser featuring Ben Carson. It has about $235,000 cash on hand.

In contrast, the party’s raised about $380,000 during the same time period in 2015.

In his note to supporters, Watson said he’s cut staff members and reduced monthly overhead by half, to roughly $28,000, by eliminating cable TV and consolidating office space. The monthly overhead has more recently jumped as the party hired regional field director and a data specialist with help from the Republican National Committee.

Party officials said they plan to proactively pay back the debt ahead of the 2018 election.

"We have an aggressive, professional, and full-time fundraising operation that will allow us to fully support our candidates in 2018 while also retiring our inherited debt and obligations,” said Carmen Foskey Bergman, the party’s executive director.

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.