Kemp questions whether Abrams' campaign loan was legal

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Georgia governor candidates Stacey Abrams (Democrat), left, and Brian Kemp (Republican).

ATLANTA — Republican Brian Kemp has criticized rival Stacey Abrams’ decision to loan her campaign money instead paying off her tax debt, questioning whether the move was legal.

“Stacey Abrams made over a million dollars in the last few years,” Kemp said in a statement Wednesday. “Instead of paying more than $50,000 in back taxes, she gave $50,000 to her campaign.

“If that’s not criminal, it should be,” added Kemp, who is the secretary of state.

Abrams, who is a tax attorney, has talked openly about her debts since they were revealed in her financial disclosure documents in March. She is on a payment plan with the IRS for $54,000 in payments that she deferred in 2015 and 2016. She also owes about $174,000 in student loan and credit card debt, which she has said she racked up in college.

The former state House minority leader largely avoided criticism about her finances during the primary, when her opponent Stacey Evans steered clear of the issue. But it’s already a focal point of the political attacks coming her way as the Nov. 6 general election approaches.

Kemp’s statement on Wednesday mirrored a recent Republican Governors Association ad that called Abrams “fiscally irresponsible.”

“I could not defer my family’s needs. I could defer paying my taxes, and I am paying them,” Abrams told reporters Wednesday following a press conference held in Atlanta to discuss her public education proposals.

“And I would argue that the focus should be on what could be done for Georgia and not my conversation with the Internal Revenue Service,” Abrams added.

Abrams has said she fell behind on paying her taxes because she was assisting her family members, including helping her parents raise her niece when her brother became addicted to drugs. The important thing, she said Wednesday, is that she is paying her obligations.

She has cast her financial struggles as experience that helps her to relate to average Georgians.

Earlier this year, Kemp was the one fending off attacks related to finances.

Kemp’s GOP primary opponent, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, criticized Kemp relentlessly for not repaying a $500,000 loan for Hart AgStrong, which is the subject of a pending lawsuit. Kemp’s campaign has sought to minimize Kemp’s role in the company, saying he was only one of many investors. Kemp won the July runoff in a landslide.

Jill Nolin covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites.

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