Politics & Government

Abrams gets extraordinary boost from small donors

This combination of photos shows Georgia gubernatorial candidates Stacey Abrams, left, and Brian Kemp.
This combination of photos shows Georgia gubernatorial candidates Stacey Abrams, left, and Brian Kemp. AP

Stacey Abrams is vying to become the nation’s first African American female governor, and donors across the nation — particularly small donors — are pouring money into her gubernatorial campaign.

That fundraising could become a big campaign issue.

Sixty-two percent of all Abrams itemized donations are from outside Georgia, according to a McClatchy analysis of campaign filings.

She’s raised more than $6 million so far, and about one-fourth has come from donations under $100, an unusually high percentage.

She’s being helped by Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., a potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate who’s urging supporters to give $10 to the Abrams effort.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, Abrams’ Republican rival, has raised more than $130,000 in small donations. Three percent of the more than $5 million he’s raised has come from beyond Georgia.

Kemp’s campaign is quick to paint Abrams’ haul as evidence that forces outside Georgia are trying to have a strong influence on the campaign.

“Stacey Abrams is funded by out-of-state, radical activists who want to turn Georgia into a lawless, losing state like California,” Kemp campaign spokesman Ryan Mahoney said. “Brian Kemp is Georgia-grown and backed financially by voters in the Peach State.”

Abrams countered she’s running a “locally-grounded campaign that has national support.” Her Democratic supporters call Kemp’s out-of-state criticism an old tactic that won’t work.

“They’ve got to find something to pick at,” said Hannah Banks, a retired architect from Newton, Massachusetts, who gave $100 to Abrams’ gubernatorial bid in May and served as a bundler for Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns.

Abrams’ small-dollar haul reflects how her chances of winning in November have shifted from improbable to possible in the minds of Georgia voters and people outside of the state, said Michael Malbin, executive director of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute.

Georgia hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since Roy Barnes in 1998.

“She has risen recently, since the primary, into the category of not favored, not a tossup, but plausible,” Malbin said. “She’s at the point she has the name recognition and the plausibility to reach beyond the state’s borders.”

In a three-month period that ended June 30, Abrams raised $750,619 in small donations, up from the $253,726 she collected in the first three months of the year, according to state campaign filings.

Kemp received $45,153 in small donations between April and June and another $23,127 in the days leading to the July 24 Republican runoff against Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.

Kemp received $1,596 in small contributions in the first three months of the year. Georgia law prohibits members of the General Assembly, statewide office holders, or their campaign committees from accepting campaign contributions while the legislature is in session.

Abrams’ unitemized small donations are an extraordinary amount compared to recent gubernatorial elections in the state. None of the candidates in the last two election cycles raised more 10 percent of their contributions at this point from unitemized small donations.

Under Georgia campaign finance law, candidates aren’t required to disclose the names of donors who have given them less than $100 total.

Several Abrams donors said they were attracted to her campaign for her potential to make history by breaking a political glass ceiling.

“I was excited about the fact that she could potentially be the first African American female to be a governor,” said Anna Sperber, a 42-year-old choreographer living in Brooklyn, New York, who gave Abrams $100 donations in May and June.

Mark Belote, an Oakland, California, artist who gave two $100 donations to Abrams in June, called Abrams a “powerful woman of color.”

“I’m tired of the same-old, same-old from the Democratic Party,” Belote said. “I want new blood and I want progressive voices.”

California’s Harris is helping. She tells supporters in an email about “a little black girl from Gulfport, Mississippi” who would “grow up to become the highest ranking Democrat in Georgia and the first black woman nominee for governor in America.”

So, Harris asks, “Will you chip in $10 or more to help us beat Brian Kemp.

From presidential contests to local races, campaigns have increasingly come to rely on small donors. Many tend to give more than once to a candidate during the election cycle.

Will Walton doesn’t have much disposable income from working a job in an Athens, Georgia, bookstore and trying to promote a novel that he recently published. But he’s got a few bucks for Abrams.

“My money is in flux, but I know that I’ll have $3 a month to give to the campaign,” Walton said.

In addition to cash, small donors are more likely to give their time by volunteering, said Matt Compton, director of advocacy and engagement for Blue State Digital, a firm that specializes in technology and online fundraising, and former deputy digital director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Some of these small-time donors are showing their support in other ways.

Walton plans to set up a display of Abrams’ books at the Avid Bookshop where he works, including the romance novels she wrote under the pen name Selena Montgomery.

“If people are looking for other ways to support her, that money will also go to her,” Walton said, adding that he recently purchased a bulk order of the Montgomery novels.

Ben Wieder, Emily Cadei and Andrea Drusch of McClatchy’s Washington Bureau contributed.
William Douglas: 202-383-6026, @williamgdouglas