One week in July, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp toured the state, making 37 stops from Winder to Evans, rallying supporters and taking selfies with voters to ramp up his campaign for governor.
Kemp’s campaign and office say he was still doing his taxpayer-funded job from the road, but his critics question how much work he can accomplish while spending so much time running for governor. During that July trip, no appointments were listed on Kemp’s work calendar.
Kemp, a Republican, says he remains committed to his $129,000-per-year elected position, and he has refused Democrats’ demands to resign while he’s also running for higher office. Kemp faces Democrat Stacey Abrams in the Nov. 6 election.
If Kemp is working as hard as ever, he’s doing so by phone and email while he’s crossing the state for his campaign.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reviewed Kemp’s public calendar, access badge records and campaign schedule to find out how frequently he has worked while campaigning.
Kemp’s calendar showed appointments on 61 days this year through August, including speeches to Rotary Clubs, appearances at business openings and meetings about Georgia’s election system. There are many days with no appointments listed.
The records of how often Kemp used his access badge to enter or exit the Capitol aren’t comprehensive because they exclude times when security guards allowed Kemp to enter the Capitol without requiring him to scan his badge.
However, the records show that the average number of days per month that Kemp swiped his badge declined by about half since he announced his campaign March 31, 2017, according to data from October 2014 through August of this year. Kemp used his badge an average of nine days monthly before the campaign and just under five days monthly since, including just one day each in May and June.
This year, Kemp has spent four weeks campaigning across the state on his “Putting Georgians First Bus Tour,” along with political events on many other days in all parts of the state, from Athens to Moultrie.
DuBose Porter, the chairman for the Democratic Party of Georgia, said Kemp is abusing his government position.
“He’s collecting a taxpayer-funded salary, and he’s not even showing up to the job he was elected to do,” Porter said. “If regular-working Georgians don’t show up to work, there are consequences. He thinks the rules don’t apply to him.”
Kemp is still working when he’s not at the Capitol, campaign spokesman Ryan Mahoney said. Part of Kemp’s job as secretary of state is to travel throughout the state to meet with election officials, businesses and other groups.
“For eight years, Brian Kemp has served as Georgia’s 27th secretary of state without taking a single day off,” Mahoney said. “He works around the clock to keep Georgia’s elections secure and has traveled to all 159 counties to fulfill his duties as a public servant.”
Just because Kemp isn’t in the office doesn’t mean he’s not working, said Candice Broce, a spokeswoman and staff attorney for the Secretary of State’s Office. She said she hears from Kemp every day and receives as many emails from him as she did before he started running for governor.
“He’s intimately involved in everything we’re doing,” Broce said. “He really is as actively involved in the daily work of the office as he was before.”
Democrats have demanded that Kemp resign from his job, which is in charge of overseeing elections statewide, while running for governor. Kemp has said Democrats are trying to create a distraction.
“I made a commitment to run and serve, and that’s what I’m doing,” Kemp said in an interview with the AJC in August.
Abrams has also been criticized for receiving public money while away from the office.
The AJC reported last month that Abrams collected more money than any other lawmaker in daily payments for work outside of legislative sessions each year from 2011 to 2013. She received a total of about $25,000 a year in per diem, on top of her part-time salary of $18,000 to $19,000 a year as a lawmaker. She used the money to travel across the state to sign up people for the Affordable Care Act, fight gerrymandering and research job creation policies, according to her campaign.
When previous secretaries of state have run for higher office, some have stepped down while others have remained in office. Democrat Max Cleland and Republican Karen Handel resigned during their campaigns; Democrats Cathy Cox and Lewis Massey fulfilled their full terms.
The Georgia Constitution requires candidates to resign their current office if they decide to run for another office midterm, but candidates don’t need to resign if their terms are expiring. Kemp is completing his second four-year term after he was first elected in 2010.
Candidates often decide to step down to avoid restrictions on raising money for their campaigns while the Georgia General Assembly is in session and from industries regulated by the Secretary of State’s Office. Abrams resigned from the Georgia House in August 2017 to run for governor.
Cleland, who quit his job as secretary of state to run a successful campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1996, has repeatedly called on Kemp to resign.
“I stepped down from my position as secretary of state because I recognized that it would not be fair to Georgia voters if I oversaw an election in which I was a candidate for higher office,” Cleland said in a statement. “It is time for Brian Kemp to do the same.”
When Handel resigned as secretary of state in 2009, she said she wanted to “focus 100 percent on the governor’s race” and eliminate potential accusations that she had a conflict of interest on election issues. Handel was secretary of state from 2007 to 2010, and she’s now a member of Congress.
Massey, who was secretary of state from 1996 to 1999, said voters shouldn’t expect the secretary of state to be in his Capitol office. It’s more important for the secretary of state to be traveling across the state and meeting with residents and organizations.
“Most weeks, I would be on the road visiting different parts of the state or going to events, probably on average three or four days a week,” said Massey, who is now a lobbyist. “It’s very important for the person in that office to get out and talk to people, listen to them, and express appreciation to them for making Georgia a better place to live.”
Cox, who was secretary of state from 1999 to 2007, said she sought to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest by stepping back from elections oversight and designating an assistant secretary of state to lead State Election Board meetings. Cox lost the 2006 Democratic primary for governor to then-Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor.
She also considered reducing her taxpayer-funded salary while campaigning but learned she couldn’t do so because it was set by Georgia laws.
“Even on days when I was out campaigning, I was in constant contact with the office,” Cox said. “I can’t imagine anybody in that office not staying in regular contact with what’s going on.”
How we got the story
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution requested documents under the Georgia Open Records Act to find out how often Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp used his security badge to access the Georgia Capitol since he took office in 2010. In response, the Georgia Building Authority provided Kemp’s access records since late September 2014, which is as far back as the state government had documentation of access.
The records don’t reflect every time Kemp reported to work at the Capitol because they don’t account for occasions when security guards allowed him to enter without swiping his security badge.
The badge records showed that Kemp swiped his security badge an average of 9.4 times per month before he announced his candidacy for governor on March 31, 2017. Since then, he has used his badge an average of 4.7 times per month.
In a separate records request, the AJC asked the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office to provide Kemp’s public calendar for 2018. That calendar showed Kemp attended official meetings and events on some days when he wasn’t at the Capitol. Many days on the calendar don’t list any appointments.