Dec 19, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Stacey Abrams campaign in debt after blowout loss

Photo illustration of Stacey Abrams in front of a pattern of hundred dollar bills at a 45 degree angle.

Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

After raising more than $100 million in her second bid to be Georgia governor, the Stacey Abrams campaign owes more than $1 million in debt to vendors, two-time campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo confirmed to Axios.

Why it matters: Abrams has been heralded for her fundraising prowess and had brought in donations at a presidential level earlier in the year. But money became so tight that most of the 180 full-time staffers were given an abrupt paycheck cutoff date — just a week after the November election.

  • “People have told me they have no idea how they’re going to pay their rent in January,” one former staffer told Axios. “It was more than unfortunate. It was messed up.”

Driving the news: Groh-Wargo told Axios that a “cavalcade of negative press and negative polling” made fundraising difficult in the final months. She said the campaign had engaged brokers to sell their donor and voter contact databases to try to pay down the debt over time.

  • “We did not just lose, we got blown out,” she said. “It was the most sub-optimal situation to be in. And we will be dealing with that situation for some time.”

What they’re saying: “Of course, I would have loved to do a lot of things differently,” Groh-Wargo said. “But I had to move as fast as possible.”

  • “We tried to do the best we could to make sure that help would be there for folks,” she said, pointing to health insurance benefits that lasted through November.

Zoom out: Gov. Brian Kemp’s campaign staff was paid through November, plus bonuses. Staff for both Herschel Walker and Sen. Raphael Warnock are being paid through December — all according to campaign officials.

  • ​​“I figured, $100 million? They should be able to pay me until December,” said another former Abrams staffer.

Yes, but: Another staff member emphasized that the compensation was high for campaigns — and that the human resources department worked “above and beyond” to try to help staff find new jobs.

The intrigue: Cash flow problems forced the campaign to cut its weekly ad buys from between $2 and $3 million in early October to $825,000 in the final week of that month. Kemp spent more than $2.6 million that same week.

  • At the time, Groh-Wargo defended it as a strategic decision to invest in digital and ground game operations.
  • But she told Axios on Friday, “I was trimming everything we could.”

Flashback: Abrams nearly ran out of money during the 2018 primary, said Georgia Democratic operative Chris Huttman. He called it a “well-documented pattern.”

  • “She was running a campaign where there’s always been more money in the future that can fix the mistakes of the past,” he told Axios.

The other side: Groh-Wargo told Axios that comparisons to 2018 are “uninformed” given the differences in the campaigns, including a competitive primary and a better climate for Democrats in 2018.

What we’re watching: A more complete picture of the campaign’s finances will become available in the new year after disclosures are due.

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