“That’s not what they brought. This is not the subject of their press conferences. That’s not the purpose of their fundraising emails,” Carr said of the final scope of the lawsuit. “This was a historic case of voter suppression. That’s what they brought to the American people, not just Georgians, they made it a national campaign. We have literally gone from twenty demands to three, and three that do not go to the heart of the affirmative ban on Georgians from voting.
Lawrence-Hardy pushed back against accusations that the trial had no impact. In the pretrial phase of the case, she said, the state reinstated 22,000 voters it planned to remove because they had not voted in the recent election, under the “use it or lose it” rule. The state also agreed to begin using a federal database called SAVE to verify the citizenship of new voters, as opposed to a statewide database.
“I wish all of our claims had gone to court, but this is modern litigation. It’s their MO to try to dismiss all or part of the cases,” Lawrence-Hardy said of of the state defense team.
But even as the scope of claims has shrunk, Fair Fight Action’s legal team has grown.
In addition to Lawrence & Bundy, Fair Fight Action paid $8.6 million for the legal services of Chicago-based Jenner & Block; and Miller & Chevalier Chartered and KaiserDillon, both based in Washington, D.C., for $2.4 million and $1.6 million, respectively, according to Fair Fight Action’s 2019 and 2020 tax filings.
Campaign Legal Center, an organization more experienced in handling voting rights cases, was added to the legal team in late 2019. It is unclear whether CLC has been paid for its work as it is not among the top five suppliers of Fair Fight Action, which are to be disclosed. The same limited disclosure applies to the work of Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock, Kastorf Law, and DuBose Miller, which appear on court documents but not on Fair Fight Action’s tax filings.
Fair Fight’s PAC, officially known as Fair Fight, Inc., has come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks. She recently opened an internal investigation after Fox News revealed that longtime Abrams aide and PAC director Andre Fields paid his sister and a friend tens of thousands of dollars for counseling services when neither has a political background .
“On October 13, Fair Fight PAC became aware that PAC funds may have been wrongfully paid to consultants,” a statement from Fair Fight PAC said. “Our first priority is to organize collective voter education efforts, which we will not lose sight of throughout this internal investigation.”
Fair Fight Action’s new executive director, Cianti Stewart-Reid, declined to disclose the group’s donors. But POLITICO was able to identify donations from George Soros’ Open Society Foundations and the Sixteen Thirty Fund, two large, well-funded liberal organizations, based on interviews and a review of other Form 990s.
The Open Society’s co-director for US grants, Laleh Ispahani, said she was impressed with the “cutting edge” of Fair Fight Action. “I’ve always been informed about the work and I think most of their donors would probably say the same thing,” Ispahani said.
But asked about the money spent on outside legal fees and his 2018 case, Ispahani said: ‘I wasn’t aware of that. I’ll tell you, I didn’t know what they spent on this, or even how they were funding this, quite honestly. So I don’t have much to tell you.
The Sixteen Thirty Fund declined to comment on its grant to Fair Fight Action.
go to trial
The case, delayed by the Covid, was finally tried in the spring. During 21 days of testimony between April and June this year, Fair Fight Action called 50 witnesses, including 25 voters, seven of whom were unable to vote in the 2016 and 2018 elections.
Before the trial, Fair Fight Action had collected more than 3,300 statements from voters and included 350 of those stories in the discovery portion of the case before the trial. Lawrence-Hardy said after closing arguments that it was a source of pride for her and her team to be able to document the experiences of so many voters.
One witness was a Fulton County voter named Andre Smith, who was repeatedly flagged as a felon and removed from the electoral system due to a false match with another Andre Smith. The defense acknowledged the problem, but said the decision to remove Smith was made at the Fulton County level, and therefore not the fault of the Secretary of State’s office.
The state argued that while Georgia’s electoral system is not perfect, it is neither systemically flawed nor intentionally discriminatory.
Josh Belinfante, the state’s lead attorney, argued that while individual voters may have problems voting, the right to vote itself was not taxed, which is the legal standard in such cases. . (Belinfante’s firm also represented the Republican Party of Georgia, including in an unsuccessful lawsuit challenging mail-in ballots in Chatham County in the 2020 presidential election.)
On the stand, Belinfante questioned Lauren Groh-Wargo, campaign manager for Abrams in 2018, who also served as director of Fair Fight Action, about why the organization challenged election procedures in 2018 but called the 2020 elections of “free and fair” – a point amplified by Justice Jones in a question from the bench.