Pro-Trump Nonprofit Spends $1.3 Million in Georgia Race

Money & Politics Report provides comprehensive behind-the-scenes coverage of campaign finance, lobbying, and government ethics issues at the federal, state, and local levels.

By Kenneth P. Doyle

A nonprofit group formed to support President Donald Trump has reported spending over $1.3 million to influence the Georgia congressional special election set for June 20, paying for television and digital ads opposing Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff.

The money from the group, America First Policies Inc., is part of the $26.5 million total in outside spending in the race between Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel, according to a Bloomberg BNA review of Federal Election Commission independent expenditure reports. The total cost of the Georgia race is likely to be roughly $60 million, approximately doubling the previous record for the most expensive U.S. House race.

America First Policies got involved in the Georgia race June 6, just two weeks before the election, according to an independent expenditure report filed with the FEC. It was the group’s first reported spending in a campaign, though it sponsored earlier ads touting Trump’s decisions as president and calling for Senate confirmation of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.

Ossoff Riding Anti-Trump Wave

As a nonprofit group that’s tax exempt under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, America First Policies doesn’t report its contributors to the FEC and hasn’t provided any information publicly about its funding sources.

Riding a wave of Democratic opposition to Trump, Ossoff’s campaign committee raised $23.6 million from individual contributors through May 31, according to FEC reports filed this month. The Democrat’s fundraising has been aided by the Democratic political action committee ActBlue and other groups that have helped Ossoff raise small-dollar contributions online.

Handel’s campaign has raised far less than Ossoff—about $4.3 million—but most of the outside groups’ spending has favored her.

The campaign spending by America First Policies signaled the importance assigned by both sides to the Georgia race, which is seen as a bellwether on the electorate’s mood in the early phase of Trump’s presidency. Among the recipients of the group’s spending, according to an FEC report, was a company owned by Brad Parscale, who headed digital advertising for Trump’s presidential campaign and has been credited with helping elect Trump with cutting-edge ads on Facebook.

Parscale ‘Firewalled Off’

Parscale told Bloomberg BNA, however, that he wasn’t personally involved in working on the Georgia race. He said in a brief phone interview that he was “firewalled off” from the work, which was being done by other associates. That is because Parscale, himself, had been involved in consulting on the Georgia race for the Republican National Committee.

Parscale Strategies LLC of San Antonio received $100,000 of the money being spent by America First Policies, according to the group’s FEC report. Parscale is one of the America First Policies founders and officers. However, he told Bloomberg BNA that he wasn’t involved in the group’s decision to spend money in the Georgia special election race.

The nonprofit also is spending more than $1.2 million for TV ads in the Georgia race, according to the FEC report, including production costs of $10,000 going to RedPrint Strategy, a consulting firm headed by Brian O. Walsh, the president of America First Policies. The commercial produced by the group for the Georgia race shows images of terrorist attacks and accuses Ossoff of “puffing up his qualifications” to serve in Congress. It ends by telling viewers that “we can’t trust him to represent us.”

Keeping Georgia Seat GOP Helps Trump

Walsh couldn’t be reached by Bloomberg BNA for comment but he told the Washington Examiner earlier this month that the mission of America First Policies is to strengthen Trump’s hand in Congress and preserve his political standing nationally. According the article, Walsh indicated that keeping the suburban Atlanta congressional district in Republican hands was important to preserve momentum for Trump’s agenda and tamp down Democratic enthusiasm ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

The Georgia district was represented previously by Tom Price, who left Congress to become Trump’s secretary of health and human services. It is one of a handful of Republican House seats vacated by lawmakers joining the administration. Republicans already have held on to House seats from Kansas and Montana in earlier special elections, but Democrats have focused more money and effort on the Georgia race.

Ossoff, a 30-year-old candidate who has never run before, has now raised nearly $4 million more than House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) record $19.8 million for a House candidate in the 2016 election cycle. The total amount of campaign money raised by the candidates in the Georgia race, now approaching $30 million, is on top of the more than $26.5 million that has been poured in by political party committees, super political action committees and other outside groups.

When the election is over June 20, the total price tag could be about twice the previous record of $29.5 million, set in a 2012 U.S. House race in Florida, according to FEC reports analyzed by the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics. In that race, Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy toppled Republican incumbent Allen West.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at kdoyle@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

FREE DEMO