Georgia’s runoff elections for U.S. Senate lure big PACs ready to spend cash

Political action committees are getting ready to spread their influence in Georgia's contests to decide control of the U.S. Senate. Clockwise from top left: Sen. Kelly Loeffler, Rev. Raphael Warnock, Sen. David Perdue and Jon Ossoff. Photos by Georgia Recorder staff

WASHINGTON — With two concurrent runoff elections that could swing the balance of the U.S. Senate, Georgia is about to become the center of the political universe, and a flurry of new super PACs are primed to get in on the action amid predictions of huge spending in the two races.

Some come from political novices: A Bangladeshi-American progressive activist who unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. House earlier this year in Georgia founded one super PAC, which is a vehicle that can raise unlimited sums of money to spend independently in political races.

A Marine veteran and local rapper who runs a company that aims to bring premium coffee to the black community founded another Georgia-based political action committee, though it is not a super PAC so will have some limits on its funding.

Other groups come from old hands: Republicans might want to beware of a super PAC run by people associated with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, for instance. A joint fundraising committee between Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, the two Democrats running for Senate in the runoffs, is likely to be a big player, too.

But the one Democrats will probably want to keep their eyes on is connected to GOP operatives who have been behind several attack-dog super PACs over the last several years, some of which have run into ethics trouble with federal regulators.

That super PAC, the Peachtree PAC, filed organizational papers with the Federal Election Commission, the main federal body regulating campaign finance, last week. Though the PAC has yet to report raising any money or spending a cent, its past record almost assures it’ll be a vehicle to spend big money against Warnock and Ossoff on behalf of GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.

That’s because, although its FEC paperwork doesn’t betray the group’s party preference, public records connect its treasurer, Julie Dozier, to a network of GOP-affiliated PACs that have run negative ads in high-profile races against Democrats and some GOP primary opponents for years across the country.

In 2018, for instance, the FEC’s general counsel and the two Democratic commissioners on the panel recommended an investigation into Outsider PAC, which Dozier kept books for, because it republished campaign materials associated with failed Michigan candidate for U.S. Senate John James without disclosing it as a donation to his campaign.

FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub wrote in a searing letter at the time that her two fellow Republican-appointed FEC commissioners had turned a blind eye to obvious evidence of misconduct.

“Political actors will continue to flout the law as long as Republican commissioners continue to refuse to enforce it,” Weintraub wrote.

Dozier, who did not respond to an email seeking comment, was also treasurer for another super PAC that was accused in a 2019 FEC complaint of failing to disclose it had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to aid GOP Rep. Jim Renacci’s campaign for the U.S. Senate in Ohio, despite laws stating it had to disclose the spending within one or two days — a move the Daily Beast called perhaps the “shadiest super PAC move ever.”

Only months later, when the group finally revealed its donors, did the public learn that it was funded mostly by two nonprofits who, in turn, keep their donors secret, according to a report from the Campaign Legal Center.

It’s unclear where the Peachtree PAC is really headquartered because Dozier lists the PAC’s address as a Greensboro, Ga., PostNet printing store, which lets customers use the address as a virtual mailbox.

What is clear is Dozier is associated with the Crosby Ottenhoff Group, an organization founded by longtime Republican hands Caleb Crosby and Benjamin Ottenhoff, who count the George W. Bush administration, Republican National Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee among their previous employers.

They’ve both run numerous super PACs that have aided Republicans. Ottenhoff worked as treasurer for a super PAC called DefendArizona that in the 2018 election cycle took in more than $10 million from the Senate Leadership Fund, another super PAC that supports Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Crosby, meanwhile, was the treasurer for Keep Kentucky Great, a super PAC that was solely funded by the Senate Leadership Fund and spent more than $13 million this election cycle attacking McConnell’s re-election opponent, Amy McGrath.

The last week has marked a spree of filings like these from brand new Georgia-based political committees, according to FEC records. None have yet disclosed spending a cent, but the uptick in filings indicates that the cash about to be dropped on Georgia’s dual runoff elections is likely to be a cherry on top of what has already been the most expensive federal election cycle ever.

“It is common for PACs and super PACs to turn their attention to runoff elections following the general election,” said Brett Kappel, a campaign finance expert at the Washington, D.C., law firm Harmon Curran. “The number of PACs and super PACs that will do so this year with regard to the two Georgia Senate runoffs will be substantially larger than usual because those two races will determine which party controls the Senate.”

Local politicians are getting in on the action too. Atlanta Mayor Bottoms is likely associated with Battleground Georgia, a super PAC that lists one Bottoms appointee as its treasurer and another as its designated agent.

Save Our Senate PAC is a new super PAC founded by Nabilah Islam, a Lawrenceville, Ga.,-based progressive activist who ran unsuccessfully in a Democratic primary for the U.S. House earlier this year and has been described as Atlanta’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She’s also president of a PAC that supports Muslim Americans in Georgia. Islam was not immediately available to comment.

Finally, there’s Blue Georgia. The PAC, which is not a super PAC, was founded by Michael Loyd, a Marine veteran who runs the coffee vendor Real Dope Coffee and raps under the name Creative Mike. He said in an interview that he activated the PAC to play in the runoff.

“I am currently raising exclusively for the Senate runoff,” he said in a text message. “I am a veteran running a ‘More Together’ campaign that seeks to align the urban and rural vote under a blue banner.”