May 23, 2022 - Politics

Fair Fight flexes new muscle in Georgia Democratic primaries

Illustration of a ballot box with a flexing arm through it, representing a check mark.
Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

The PAC affiliated with Fair Fight Action, the voting rights policy organization Stacey Abrams founded after her 2018 loss, has been flexing new muscle in Democratic primary elections this year.

  • And that's not making everyone in the party happy.

Driving the news: In an effort to influence how voting policy is made at the state Capitol — and who shapes it — Fair Fight has taken the unusual step of wading into intra-party disputes, even if it means endorsing against incumbent members of the legislature.

  • The group has endorsed nearly 75 candidates across Georgia this cycle, largely in state House and state Senate primary races. Last year it backed several municipal candidates across the state.
  • Some Fair Fight donors are unhappy and argue that involvement in primaries is counterproductive. Some said they don’t plan to support the group again as a result.

Axios spoke with more than a dozen Democratic officials and operatives (who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity) who questioned the purpose and motives of Fair Fight weighing in on primaries between candidates who generally agree on voting policy.

Why it matters: Fair Fight has emerged as the strongest Democratic lobbying force at the state Capitol when it comes to voting policy. If the group takes a position on a bill, it’s difficult for Democratic legislators to take a different one.

What they're saying: André Fields, Fair Fight PAC's political director, tells Axios in a statement that the group "carefully and thoroughly considers any endorsement we make, weighing a number of factors — including a candidate’s connection to the local grassroots activist communities that have always been core to Fair Fight’s mission."

  • The group, he said, makes endorsements when "a candidate stands out for their record on voting rights and their demonstrated commitment to protecting the freedom to vote."

Yes, but: At the same time, the group has opted to stay out of many contested statewide races, including the crowded primary for lieutenant governor and the primary race for attorney general.

The intrigue: Abrams is no longer working with the organization and has no role in the endorsement process, but she references the work of Fair Fight in her campaign.

  • Maureen McIvor, a Democratic donor unhappy with one of Fair Fight’s decisions, said its involvement is confusing to voters: “Amateurs don’t know the difference between Stacey and the organization she founded. They’re saying, ‘Ugh, this is bad, why is she doing this?'”

By the numbers: The PAC has pulled in more than $110 million since January 2019, the vast majority of which came from donors outside of Georgia. As of March, it had more than $16 million cash on hand.

Zoom in: One endorsement that has raised eyebrows is in state House District 90, Abrams’ former district. Fair Fight elected to support Bentley Hudgins, an organizer who has worked closely with the organization.

  • But among Hudgins’ opponents is Saira Draper, the former voter protection director of the Democratic Party of Georgia.

Another battle that’s prompted frustration is in the state Senate race between state Rep. Beth Moore and former Congressional candidate and organizer Nabilah Islam. While Moore earned Fair Fight’s support in 2020, the organization chose to back Islam this year.

  • Islam has been running attack ads accusing Moore of siding with Republicans on voting policy. The ads have enraged Moore’s supporters and prompted criticism from some sitting lawmakers.
  • McIvor, a longtime donor to Moore, called the ads “disappointing” and said she will not donate to Fair Fight again at this point. Endorsing in races like this, she tells Axios, “does not advance Fair Fight’s cause.”

The big picture: “It certainly hurts if you don’t get endorsed by Fair Fight. Not only is it Stacey Abrams’ organization, but they’ve done excellent work to protect the right to vote in Georgia,” said state Rep. Sam Park, whom Fair Fight endorsed.

Another view: A former volunteer voter protection lawyer with the Democratic Party of Georgia who spoke on condition of anonymity said, ultimately, he views Fair Fight’s involvement as an indication of how Georgia’s Democratic political ecosystem has flourished.

  • “The fact that it’s business as usual is a good thing,” he tells Axios. “You have choices. You have actions with consequences. I would have laughed if you told me that six years ago.”
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