NewsNews Features

Athens’ Republican Legislators Have a Big Fundraising Edge Over Democrats

State Rep. Scrooge McDuck (R-Scotland), aka Houston Gaines. Photo illustration by Larry Tenner.

Athens’ Republican state legislators have all amassed five- and six-figure campaign war chests, far outpacing their Democratic challengers headed into the Nov. 8 election.

Four Republicans who represent Athens under the Gold Dome—and one who likely will when new districts take effect—had raised a combined $1.6 million as of the end of September and had about $1 million available to spend, according to documents filed with the Georgia Campaign Finance and Government Transparency Commission earlier this month. Democrats running for those seats, meanwhile, had raised just over $100,000 combined and had about half that left to spend. House District 117 candidate Mokah Jasmine Johnson, for example, led among Democrats with about $60,000 raised. But that paled in comparison to incumbent Houston Gaines, who was sitting on nearly $400,000 entering the home stretch.

Gaines—who was first elected in 2018, fresh out of the University of Georgia—already chairs the House Redistricting and Reapportionment Committee and is seen as a rising star in the party. Other local legislators have amassed substantial influence as well: Sen. Bill Cowsert is the Senate Majority leader, Sen. Frank Ginn chairs the powerful Senate Transportation Committee, Rep. Trey Rhodes chairs the Game, Fish and Parks Committee, and Rep. Marcus Wiedower is vice chairman of the House transportation and intergovernmental committees. In addition, corporate political action committees and lobbyists often prefer to contribute to whoever’s in power.

On the flip side, Democrats’ lackluster fundraising is a sign that those races aren’t priorities for the state party or major donors. Redistricting after the 2020 Census shored up those GOP-held seats, and Republicans further diluted Athens Democrats’ votes by adding part of a third conservative House district (120, represented by Rhodes) to those held by Gaines and Wiedower straddling Clarke, Oconee, Barrow and Jackson counties.

Campaign finance disclosures are also a peek at who’s supporting each candidate and who might have their ear. Here’s an overview of local legislative races:

Senate District 46

Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens)

Total Raised: $407,031

Total Spent: $127,750

Cash on Hand: $279,281

Top Donors: Georgia Fine Wines, LLC of Lawrenceville ($6,000), Poarch Creek Band of Indians in Altmore, AL ($3,000), Norcross video gambling company Ultra Group of Companies, Inc. ($3,000), AT&T Georgia PAC ($2,800), Watkinsville/Jefferson law firm O’Kelley & Sorohan ($2,800)

Andrew Ferguson (D-Athens)

Total Raised: $18,720

Total Spent: $8,303

Cash on Hand: $10,417

Top Donors: Fair Fight ($1,500), Fair Fight PAC ($1,500), Athens-Clarke County Democratic Committee ($1,200), former state Rep. Jonathan Wallace of Athens ($1,050), District Attorney and former Athens state Rep. Deborah Gonzalez ($1,030)

Photo illustration by Larry Tenner State Sen. J.R. Ewing (R-Dallas), aka Bill Cowsert (R-Athens).

Senate District 47

Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville)

Total Raised: $309,533

Total Spent: $265,825

Cash on Hand: $43,708

Top Donors: Georgia Association of Realtors PAC ($5,000), John F. Kennedy for State Senate ($3,000), Civil Justice PAC ($3,000), Georgia Chamber Political Affairs Council ($3,000), Cowsert for Senate ($3,000), Georgia Transportation Alliance ($2,500), V-TAC Communications LLC of Monroe ($2,022), Caterpillar Inc. ($2,000)

Conolus Scott (D-Danielsville)

Total Raised: $18,253

Total Spent: $5,313

Cash on Hand: $12,940

Top Donors: Conolus Scott ($1,118), Clarke County Democratic Committee ($1,000), Commerce farmer David Ramsey ($1,000), Georgia Senate Democratic Caucus ($500), Jackson County Democrats ($500)

House District 117

Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens)

Total Raised: $508,849

Total Spent: $137,651

Cash on Hand: $371,198

Top Donors: Georgia Association of Realtors PAC ($3,200), Athens physician Petros Nikolinakos ($3,000), The Home Depot PAC ($3,000), Athens attorney Kevin Lang ($3,000), Bogart real estate investor Robert Scott ($2,500), Heyward Allen Toyota owner Steve Middlebrooks ($2,500), Atlanta business owner Richard T. Lewis ($2,500), Georgia Crown liquor distributor Donald Leeburn ($2,500), Phil Hughes Honda manager Apryl Hughes ($2,500), Georgia Optometric Association PAC ($2,500), Athens real estate owner John Barrett ($2,500), Statham landfill company Cooper Barnette Page president Mark Allen ($2,500)

Mokah Jasmine Johnson (D-Athens)

Total Raised: $62,705

Total Spent: $47,561

Cash on Hand: $15,144

Top Donors: Mokah Jasmine Johnson ($4,800 loan), Stacey Abrams-founded political group Fair Fight ($3,000), Atlanta CDC doctor Michael St. Louis ($2,500), Athens retiree Barbara Benson ($2,000)

House District 120

Rep. Trey Rhodes (R-Greensboro)

Total Raised: $147,237

Total Spent: $77,425

Cash on Hand: $69,812

Top Donors: conservative 527 political organization Georgia Wins ($3,000), Askew Appliance owner Timothy Askew of Greensboro ($3,000), B&H Farms Partnership of Baconton ($2,500), Hawkinsville banker Mansfield Jennings ($2,500), Med Lake Lab owner Randy Peters of Milledgeville ($2,500), Baconton businessman Tim Pinson ($2,500), Southland Plantation owner Timothy Smith of Bainbridge ($2,500), The Silver Moon in Eatonton ($2,500), 

Kat Howkins (D-Winterville)

No records available at press time. The Georgia Campaign Finance Commission fined Howkins $125 for missing a filing deadline on Mar. 25.

House District 121

Rep. Marcus Wiedower (R-Watkinsville)

Total Raised: $309,358

Total Spent: $82,056

Cash on Hand: $227,302

Top Donors: Georgia Association of Realtors PAC ($6,000), Georgia Crown executive Donald M. Leeburn Jr. of McDonough ($5,800), Gator Fire Extinguisher Company ($5,000), Adamo Homes, LLC of Pendergrass ($3,000), Bailey Winston, LLC of Pendergrass ($3,000), Athens Realtor Ashleigh Baker ($3,000), Coastal Georgia Quality Roofs of St. Simons ($3,000), Coastal Georgia Quality Roofs owner Jarrett Eidell ($3,000), Statham real estate developer Johnny Dixon ($3,000), Athens Realtor Steve Ebbert ($3,000), Transportation Insight sales representative Amir Ghoddousi of Atlanta ($3,000), KM Holdings, LLC of Athens ($3,000), KM Holdings owner Kelly Mahoney ($3,000), Karen Mahoney ($3,000), AJ Investment executive Yonis Martinex of Woodstock ($3,000), Marietta retiree Greg Schnute ($3,000), Plantation, FL real estate developer Rob Steigele ($3,000), STKR Town Square, LLC of Fort Lauderdale, FL ($3,000), Atlanta Custom Fab executive Sam Tidwell of Douglasville ($3,000), Alan Ward of Fry Guys Management in Watkinsville ($3,000), Ponte Vedre, FL retiree Michele Wiedower ($3,000), Amazon executive Phillip Wiedower ($3,000)

Jeff Auerbach (D-Athens)

Total Raised: $34,480

Total Spent: $5,774

Cash on Hand: $28,706

Top Donors: Fair Fight ($3,000), Strafford Publications executive Richard Ossoff of Atlanta ($1,700), Clarke County Democratic Committee ($1,000), venture capitalist Teresa Preston-Werner of Greenbrae, CA ($1,000), Atlanta retiree Larry Auerbach ($1,000), Atlanta retiree Janet Susan Bernstein ($1,000)