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Stacey Abrams and her enriched lawyer friends

The Reward for Hard Working Lawyers: Abrams’ campaign chair collected millions in legal fees from voting rights organization

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This article is lengthy and detailed, exceeding 4,500 words. The essence of the article is that the voting rights organization founded by Stacey Abrams spent more than $25 million over two years on legal fees, mostly on a single case, with the largest amount going to the self-described boutique law firm. The boutique law firm is owned by Stacey Abrams’ campaign chairwoman.

As reported, “Allegra Lawrence-Hardy is one of two named partners in Lawrence & Bundy, a small firm of fewer than two dozen attorneys. Hardy is a close friend of Stacy Abrams. Hardy chaired Abrams’ gubernatorial campaign both in 2018 and is also her chair in Abrams’ current bid to unseat Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.”

People allegedly wanting to advance fair elections donated money to Abrams’ activist Fair Fight Action group. Most likely, most donors did not expect their money to be siphoned off to Abrams’ friends. The Yahoo article continued: “The firm received $9.4 million from Abrams’ group, Fair Fight Action, in 2019 and 2020, the last years for which federal tax filings are available. Lawrence-Hardy declined to comment on how much her firm has collected from Fair Fight Action in 2021 and 2022 — years in which Fair Fight Action v. Raffensperger, for which Lawrence-Hardy was lead counsel, had most of its courtroom activity.”

Last month, a federal judge ruled against Fair Fight Action on all three remaining claims the entity. Fair Fight Action has alleged its legal battles have been virtuous. Fair Fight Action, as reported, “has maintained that the suit served an important role in drawing attention to voting inequities.” The Yahoo article continued: “But some outside the group questioned both the level of expenditures devoted to a single, largely unsuccessful legal action and the fact that such a large payout went to the firm of Abrams’ close friend and campaign chair. Those concerns were heightened by the fact that Abrams’ national campaign against voter suppression galvanized the Democratic Party, many of whose top donors helped fill its coffers.

Yahoo provides a brief history of the litigation. “Fair Fight Action v. Raffensperger began as a sweeping legal attack on voting issues ranging from long lines at polling places to problems with voter registration to poor training of poll workers. The scope of the case was subsequently narrowed significantly by Federal District Court Judge Steve C. Jones. On Sept. 30, after a bench trial, Jones issued his final order and judgment, ruling against Fair Fight Action.”

“Although Georgia’s election system is not perfect,” Jones wrote, “the challenged practices violate neither the constitution nor the [Voting Rights Act].”

Abrams’ employment of the voter access issue established her on a national level.

The fact that her case had no legal merit, according to the federal judge, was insignificant. As Yahoo reported: “The case, and the organization that spawned it, was at the cutting edge of Abrams’ nationwide drive to expand voter access, a cause that made her a rising star among liberals and an alleged victim of GOP efforts to limit participation, especially among minorities. Abrams, a Democrat, created Fair Fight Action shortly after her loss to Kemp, a Republican, in the 2018 gubernatorial race, by a narrow margin of 50.2 to 48.8 percent. Afterward, she claimed that thousands of voters, a disproportionate number of whom were people of color, were effectively disenfranchised by overly restrictive voting rules. Within days of her loss, she committed herself to a massive effort to expose voter suppression, galvanizing many Democratic donors and activists.”

Abrams had made some provocative accusations against Georgia’s voting system. As reported, “This year, more than 200 years into Georgia’s democratic experiment, the state failed its voters,” Abrams told supporters 10 days after the 2018 election. “You see, despite a record-high population in Georgia, more than a million citizens found their names stripped from the rolls by the secretary of state, including a 92-year-old civil rights activist who had cast her ballot in the same neighborhood since 1968. Tens of thousands hung in limbo, rejected due to human error and a system of suppression that had already proven its bias.”

Yahoo continued: “Over the coming months, contributions poured in, making Fair Fight Action one of the most heavily funded groups working to ensure ballot access for all eligible voters. In 2019 and 2020, Fair Fight Action raised more than $61 million — more than double the amount of any other similar entity operating in Georgia. Since then, Fair Fight Action has spent at least a third of that fundraising haul on Fair Fight Action v. Raffensperger. An additional $20 million was left in reserves, according to the latest tax filings.”

The level of legal expenditures dwarfs those of other voting rights cases brought in federal court, say voting rights experts. By comparison, the state of Georgia devoted almost $6 million to defend the secretary of state’s office in the Raffensperger case, according to the attorney general’s office.

Reference is made to legal costs in other civil rights cases. “The typical case is a couple of hundred thousand dollars and can take a couple of years,” said Leah Aden, deputy director for litigation at the Legal Defense Fund, which advocates for civil rights and racial justice. She cited a case in Texas in which five plaintiffs sought about $8.8 million in legal fees after the verdict as the most expensive she had seen. “Beyond $10 million would be very shocking, I would say.”

Possible conflicts of interests create ethical considerations. The Yahoo article addresses some ethical questions. “But some ethics watchdogs say the closeness of their relationship, combined with Lawrence-Hardy’s leading roles in Abrams’ campaigns, raises questions about a possible conflict of interest. The litigation that Lawrence-Hardy helped launch on behalf of Fair Fight Action brought substantial fees to her firm while potentially giving Abrams a public-relations victory and vindicating her criticisms of Georgia’s voting system.

“It is a very clear conflict of interest because with that kind of close link to the litigation and her friend that provides an opportunity where the friend gets particularly enriched from this litigation,” said Craig Holman, an expert on campaign finance and ethics at Public Citizen, a non-partisan consumer advocacy organization, offering his opinion after POLITICO briefed Holman on the contents of Fair Fight Action’s 990 forms. “The outcome of that litigation can directly affect her campaign itself.”  Read the entire cited article. The inner workings of cash flows among candidates, friends and campaigns are fascinating.

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