Stacey Abrams Benefits From a 'Voter Suppression' Tale
Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams lost her 2018 gubernatorial bid to Republican Brian Kemp by nearly 55,000 votes, but she still refuses to concede. Instead, she claims the election was stolen from her. She has uncritically peddled that falsehood in countless interviews on national television and has capitalized off of it, by starting the group Fair Fight.
Fair Fight just launched a multimillion-dollar “voter protection” initiative for the 2020 election in 20 competitive states. As the face of the group, Abrams stands to benefit politically from the increased national presence. This begs the question: Is Fair Fight about fighting voter suppression or raising Abrams’ profile?
The Associated Press recently raised this conundrum by pointing out that the “organization has paid for advertisements featuring Abrams and some of her travel and organized national watch parties when she delivered the Democratic rebuttal to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union.” And while there is no evidence of illegality, Abrams’ actions “could prompt questions about whether the nonprofit is inappropriately supporting her political ambitions,” the AP's report stated.
A conservative watchdog group, the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, filed an IRS complaint pointing to “roughly $100,000 worth of Facebook ads featuring Abrams, an advertisement for a ‘Stacey Abrams Fundraiser’ that featured Fair Fight Action’s logo, travel for Abrams’ post-election ‘thank you’ tour of Georgia and a professionally produced ‘highlight reel’ of Abrams footage on the group’s website.” Fair Fight is also staffed by her former campaign aides.
This isn’t the first time that Abrams appears to have benefited from the issue of voters’ rights. The Atlanta Journal Constitution raised other concerns ahead of the 2018 election. Between 2013 and 2016, the newspaper reported, Abrams raised $12.5 million for the Third Sector Development and the Voter Access Institute, both non-profits and tax-exempt. Abrams wouldn’t say “where the money came from, even though the two foundations paid her, over three years, nearly half a million dollars,” the newspaper reported.
A voter-drive effort by Third Sector Development and New Georgia Project prompted an investigation by Abrams’ eventual gubernatorial rival Kemp, who was then Georgia's secretary of state, and the state's board of elections; Kemp's investigation ultimately found no wrongdoing by New Georgia Project but questioned some of the voter applications and registration contractors.
The groups’ efforts to register and reach minority voters apparently were a failure, however. The Democratic Party got “just 3 percent more votes for governor in 2014 than in 2010, and turnout among African-American voters declined by more than 2 percentage points,” as the Atlanta Journal Constitution noted. However, it was a win for Abrams’ career: The foundations gave her access to wealthy progressive activists who went on to support her gubernatorial ambitions and many of the groups’ aides and consultants worked on her 2018 campaign. As the AJC noted last year, “the foundations’ greatest successes” were “creating the infrastructure that undergirds Abrams’ gubernatorial campaign.”
What’s even worse than Abrams using these groups as a launchpad for her career is the fact that Fair Fight appears to be predicated on a false premise. Despite her claims of voter suppression, Georgia had more than 6.9 million registered voters heading into the 2018 midterm elections. That is the most registered voters in the state’s history. Almost 4 million Georgians voted in the midterm elections, which neared presidential levels. Further, minority voters made up a record 40 percent of the electorate, 30 percent were African American.
Despite her unfounded claims of voter suppression and a history of using voting groups to raise her profile, the media has uncritically pushed her false narrative and fawned over her. Vogue even recently profiled her in a piece called, “Can Stacey Abrams Save American Democracy?” But if her past foundations are any indication, Abrams’ isn’t trying to save democracy — she's trying to boost her own career.