Rep. Stacey Abrams, DPG Chair DuBose Porter respond to New Georgia Project cover story

‘It’s like a big bomb just went off’

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::::”It’s like a big bomb just went off.”

That’s how one state lawmaker referred to the reaction inside the Gold Dome among Democrats to CL’s New Georgia Project cover story this week. If you haven’t read it yet, the Feb. 16 article takes a close look at Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams’ voter registration initiative, which raised at least $3 million with the hopes of registering 120,000 minority voters, and the work it performed leading up to the 2014 election.

New Georgia Project’s leaders have responded to the report by defending the initiative’s work. The head of the Democratic Party of Georgia has thrown his full backing behind Abrams and the voter registration drive. Most state reps and senators so far have refrained from making public comment on the matter.

In the story, Democratic lawmakers, staffers, and strategists have begun asking about NGP’s funds, questioning whether tens of thousands of missing applications the group claimed to collect ever existed, or casting aspersions about the legitimacy of a lawsuit filed against the secretary of state. Calls were also made for the group to be immediately transparent from state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, and other Democratic sources.

Nse Ufot, NGP’s executive director, sent a letter to CL’s editors on Feb. 17 saying the story “unfortunately mischaracterizes” Abrams’ work and “demands a transparency that has been provided, is forthcoming or is unlawful.” She also re-sent a statement from late January that had answered some, but not all, of CL’s questions.

“Mr. Blau’s recent article poses several speculative queries for which the New Georgia Project provided substantive and full responses,” writes Ufot, who declined to refute specific parts of the story. “We are disappointed that he has relied so heavily on anonymous sources and inaccurate assumptions, as well as leaving out clear, responsive answers to his queries. Rep. Abrams has maintained careful distinctions between her nonprofit efforts and her political activities for more than fifteen years, and she has refused to conflate them to satisfy spurious allegations.”

Abrams declined another request to be interviewed about NGP. In a statement from a publicist working for her nonprofit, Abrams defended last year’s work, which she says occurred in a “responsible, collaborative manner” that followed best practices. Noting that “critiques are welcome,” she says NGP plans to continue registering minority voters for the foreseeable future.

“NGP successfully registered more than 86,000 voters of color directly; financially supported the work of multiple partners, resulting in more than 120,000 total voter registration applications being submitted in the state; and took on this endeavor in an incredibly challenging contemporary climate for voter registration,” Abrams says.

Democratic Party of Georgia Chairman DuBose Porter offered in a lengthy statement his unequivocal support for Abrams’ leadership as Georgia’s House Minority Leader and NGP’s founder.

“What the New Georgia Project accomplished last year was nothing short of remarkable,” he says, noting that the initiative registered 86,000 voters and helped fund other voter registration groups that exceeded her initial pledge of 120,000 new registrants. Like Abrams, he touted NGP’s registration numbers as a clear indication of the initiative’s success without providing proof of their existence. “As we watched this effort from the outside, we were astounded and impressed—so many have talked about the need to improve the civic engagement of Georgians of color, few have taken up the cause so boldly.”

Porter says Abrams, through her direct fundraising and leadership of House Democrats, has poured more than $800,000 into key races, stopped the GOP from picking up seats, protected Democratic incumbents in key races, and prevented a GOP supermajority.

“Most states across the country saw tough losses in their state legislatures,” he said. “The fact that Democrats held the line in the Georgia House is a huge victory in a tough year.”

One of the House Minority leader’s biggest metrics of success is the number of seats picked up. Abrams was elected House minority leader in November 2010. When the General Assembly began in January 2011, Republicans held 114 House seats, while Democrats held 63. Democrats have since lost three seats under Abrams’ tenure as her party’s top official in the lower chamber.

As Peach Pundit’s Jon Richards notes this morning, the Democratic House Caucus only fielded 85 candidates including races against some vulnerable Republican incumbents last year. It’s only the second time since reconstruction the party didn’t have enough House candidates running to win a majority. In nine House districts where former U.S. Senate candidate Michelle Nunn or gubernatorial candidate Jason Carter received more than 40 percent of the vote, Republicans state reps won re-election without Democratic opposition.

On a personal level, Porter effusively praised Abrams as a “person of great integrity” whose “devotion to her caucus is inspiring” and a sign of her leadership. “Stacey is a principled public servant who knows that Georgia isn’t living up to its fullest potential and something must be done to push us forward,” Porter says. “There are talkers and naysayers, and then there are doers. Stacey is a doer. She’s not waiting around for our state to change or waiting for a majority to fall in her lap. She’s actively working for the change she seeks, that we all seek.”

Strong financial ties bind together the interests of Abrams, the House Caucus, and DPG. The three organizations legally share resources including staffers. For instance, numerous House Democratic Caucus ‎employees last year received payments from both DPG and Abrams political accounts. It was unsurprising Abrams was a rare endorsement for Porter in his DPG re-election bid this past winter.

Porter’s statement didn’t challenge specific parts of the Feb. 16 story. But DPG Communications Director Michael Smith yesterday sent out an internal email to the party’s executive committee saying DPG staffers are “obviously disappointed in the article for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the article was based on speculation and riddled with inaccuracies.” No particular parts were described as problematic. CL reached out to DPG to discuss those issues. We’ve not heard back yet.