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The Georgia GOP’s Spending on Legal Fees Could Be Costing It Donors

Some Georgians are still happy to chip in even though their money is going to lawyers and not candidates.

Georgia Fulton County Courthouse
The Georgia Republican Party has shelled out over $1.3 million in legal fees for three defendants in Fulton County. Alex Slitz/AP

Georgia’s Republican Party has committed to paying legal fees for alternate electors who tried to elect Donald Trump, but it’s seeing fallout from potential donors who don’t want their money to end up in a lawyer’s wallet.

“There are people that won’t donate to the party because they don’t want their money to go to pay legal bills,” said Brian Pritchard, first vice chairman of the Georgia GOP. “I can’t help but say it’s been detrimental to donations and the party.”

The party has spent over $1.3 million in legal fees on behalf of David Shafer, Shawn Still and Cathy Latham since 2022. Each was indicted in the Fulton County case for serving as an alternate elector for Trump in 2020. They were acting as GOP officials when they committed the indicted offense, according to Pritchard.

Some Republicans are worried that the ongoing legal bills could hurt candidates’ chances in the election.

“Every penny that goes to that is a penny that is not going to win an election, which is the stated purpose of the party,” said Lane Flynn, former GOP chair of DeKalb County.

But the party has remained steadfast — and some of its donors have been too. After paying at least $220,000 in fees for the three defendants in 2022, party members voted during their June 2023 convention to continue paying legal aid. The organization has held multiple fundraisers since then to keep up with the rising fees. Party officials admitted it’s been a tough slog.

“I mean, God bless lawyers,” said Laurie McClain, Georgia GOP treasurer. “But it is not fun at all trying to raise the money to pay those legal fees.”

Individual contributions in 2023 totaled 1,861, down from the 2021 high of 3,874 in the wake of President Joe Biden’s Oval Office ascension.

Still, Republicans in the state largely support the defendants, according to multiple GOP operatives. And some donors continue to give, supporting the party’s direction with their paychecks.

“Honestly, I’m going to continue to donate,” said donor Beverly Carr. “Whether it’s $100, $500 or $50.”

“It’s all over the news that the state party was supporting” the three defendants, said donor Todd Tibbetts. “And when we gave them money, we knew where it was going.”

Georgia GOP Chairman Josh McKoon established a scope of work with the firms involved, according to Pritchard, so the party won’t pay legal fees forever, whatever the case’s status. Judge Scott McAfee heard closing arguments on Friday regarding a motion to remove Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. He expects to release a decision within two weeks. If she was removed, the case would be stalled until a new prosecutor is appointed.

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The impact of all this spending on the election is to be determined. The Georgia Republican Party spent just shy of $43 million during the 2020 election year, which featured two Senate runoffs and over $19 million spent from Nov. 24 through Dec. 31. The party opened 2023 with $1.7 million and closed with $485,805, with $150,000 donated by GOP presidential candidates, according to FEC filings. The 2024 election cycle is expected to be the most expensive in history.

“It’s hurt the confidence in the party and the confidence in 2024 and the ability to get Trump elected and the ability to move forward,” Pritchard said.

Some predicted there would be minimal fallout for Republican candidates in the general election. GOP strategist Cole Muzio said that campaigns’ shift toward outside financing has made them less reliant on traditional party infrastructure.

“I think a lot of people have moved on from the idea that the Georgia GOP — and even the RNC — are critical to funding election efforts,” said Muzio.

Outside spending is expected to blow past previous election cycles.

Regardless of the optics or impact, the state’s GOP plans to pay until the end.

“A majority of our base wants to help these folks,” said McClain. “They are saying, ‘You know what, they stuck their neck out. So we’re gonna stick our pocketbooks out, we’re going to take care of them.’”

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the Georgia Republican Party’s funding as of the end of 2023.

Ben T.N. Mause is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.