Spending by Fair Fight Action, a nonprofit that former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams founded to advance voting rights, and which is staffed by former Abrams campaign aides, is prompting questions about whether it's inappropriately supporting her political ambitions.
In a matter of months, Abrams has gone from losing the Georgia governor’s race to being a heavily recruited Democratic star, urged to run for Senate and mentioned as a possible presidential contender.
On Wednesday, a GOP-affiliated group called the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, or FACT, filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service. The group pointed 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.
The complaint argued Fair Fight Action has been supporting Abrams’ political ambitions, not advocating for voting rights. That would be a violation of tax law that forbids political 501(c)(4) nonprofits from providing a “private benefit” to a particular person or group, according to a copy of the complaint provided to The Associated Press. The group typically files ethics complaints against Democrats but also has targeted some Republicans, including North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.
Although there is no proof of any illegal activity, some of the organization’s expenditures could pose a problem if Abrams follows through with her pledge to run for office again. For the organization to be tax exempt, it can’t be involved in campaign work; if she runs, all their support for her could appear like campaign work. Abrams serves as the chairwoman of Fair Fight Action’s board.
If she runs for federal office and it's determined that the group laid the groundwork for her campaign, donation limitations could retroactively apply to Fair Fight Action, legal experts have said.
Fair Fight Action CEO Lauren Groh-Wargo, Abrams’ former campaign manager, disputed the details of FACT’s complaint. She said that while Abrams is the figurehead of the organization, Fair Fight Action’s promotional activities have always focused on voting rights issues.
“It’s no surprise that right-wing hit groups allied with Donald Trump are launching bogus attacks against Fair Fight,” she said in an emailed statement. “They’re afraid of Stacey Abrams and even more afraid that all eligible Georgians will exercise their right to vote.”
Abrams has said that she will decide soon on her political future. Last week, she met with former Vice President Joe Biden, leading to speculation he might pick her as a running mate if he enters the 2020 White House race and wins the Democratic nomination. Her latest moves also have been closely watched by national Republicans, who have said she would be a formidable challenger to Republican Sen. David Perdue of Georgia in 2020.
Caitlin Highland, an Abrams spokeswoman, said Abrams will step down from Fair Fight Action if she runs for office again.
The mission of Fair Fight Action, founded in 2014 as the Voter Access Institute, was to provide “education to voters on how and where to vote.” It paid Abrams an annual salary of about $80,000 and was barred under its own corporate bylaws from promoting political candidates, records have shown.
The group, which does not disclose its donors, raised about $2.5 million from 2014 to 2016, according to the records. It has not yet filed tax paperwork showing what it raised in 2018 when she was running for governor.
Fox News’ Gregg Re and The Associated Press contributed to this report.