The nonprofit founded by Stacey Abrams and led by Sen. Raphael Warnock between 2017 and 2019 is beset by turmoil and infighting just days ahead of the midterm elections. Since late June, the New Georgia Project has dismissed its top finance, legal, and operation officials.
Founded by Abrams in 2013, the New Georgia Project served as "the poster child" of Abrams's efforts to boost Democrats in the state, according to Axios. Though Abrams and Warnock are no longer affiliated with the group, both are on the ballot next Tuesday, and the New Georgia Project worked to expand the non-white electorate in the Peach State. In 2020 alone it raised nearly $25 million from donors including the left-wing dark money behemoth Tides Foundation and the George Soros-bankrolled Center for Popular Democracy.
But over the past eight weeks, the group has suffered a major brain drain. The group’s "leadership team" consisted of eight people in September, according to web archives, but four of those positions are now vacant, including the chief operations officer, chief legal officer, chief financial officer, and chief communications officer.
A recording of an Oct. 7 video conference call shared with the Free Beacon shows the director of human resources, Earvin Hopkins, dismissing the New Georgia Project's chief operating officer as well as its directors of design and digital marketing. On the same call, Hopkins told employees that the group could no longer afford to pay the employees who were being let go.
The New Georgia Project has also gone without a top accountant since chief financial officer Randall Frazier was fired in late June. A former executive with the group, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Frazier was terminated after warning the group’s leaders that they were engaged in potential financial impropriety and urging them to bring in a forensic accountant to right the ship.
"I was in the room when he brought it up to all the leadership again and again and again, and was there when he was fired," the former executive said. Frazier, according to the former executive, said he couldn’t do his job without violating the law, though he did not elaborate on why he believed that to be the case.
Internal communications also show the group’s leaders were touchy about who had access to their finances. A former executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said New Georgia Project’s CEO Kendra Cotton rejected her request on Sept. 13 to grant an independent auditor access to their accounting software. Just weeks earlier, on Aug. 30, Cotton responded to a request from the group's chief operating officer that the group hire a new accountant: "We are HYPER SENSITIVE about who we let around our financial info," Cotton wrote in a text message reviewed by the Free Beacon.
Frazier declined to comment, citing a nondisclosure agreement with the New Georgia Project. His former lead accountant at the New Georgia Project, Ambria Hardy, declined to comment.
Cotton did not respond to a request for comment, but New Georgia Project employees were instructed on Thursday afternoon to notify Cotton "immediately" if contacted by members of the press. Speaking to reporters, a text message warned, is a violation of the New Georgia Project policy.
Though they are no longer formally affiliated with the group, Abrams and Warnock have maintained ties with New Georgia Project leaders, including board chairman Francys Johnson. Warnock appointed Johnson to his "Federal Nominations Advisory Commission" in March 2021, and he is also a regular at Abrams campaign events. In September he cohosted a get-out-the-vote rally for her in Atlanta.
Johnson, who did not respond to a request for comment, was appointed chairman of the New Georgia Project’s board in 2020 after Warnock announced his first bid for the Senate. He served as president of the Georgia NAACP and mounted a failed congressional bid as a Democrat in 2018.
Though Hopkins, the human resources chief, cited financial constraints when dismissing employees in October, the New Georgia Project ended 2020 with over $17 million in cash reserves after starting the year with just $232,000 in the bank, according to the charity’s Form 990 tax return. The group did not respond to a request for a copy of its 2021 Form 990.
Internal communications reviewed by the Free Beacon also reveal the New Georgia Project misrepresented the reason former CEO Nsé Ufot left the group last month. According to a "love letter" written by Ufot and posted to the New Georgia Project’s website, she stepped down from her position "out of love." But in at least one private correspondence, those communications show, Johnson claimed to have "fired" Ufot along with the then-chief legal officer and deputy general counsel. Ufot did not respond to a request for comment.
The New Georgia Project is the third Abrams-founded group to face allegations of financial impropriety. A state ethics commission concluded in August that New Georgia Project likely violated the law during Abrams’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign. The group and its affiliated New Georgia Project Action Fund were accused of failing to report $4.2 million in contributions and $3 million in expenditures incurred between 2017 and 2019.
Legal experts also raised questions about the finances of Abrams’s Fair Fight Action after the group doled out $9.4 million to a law firm run by Abrams's current campaign chair, Allegra Lawrence-Hardy. Fair Fight Action’s political action committee launched an internal investigation into its finances in October, after Fox News reported the PAC funneled a combined $178,000 to close friends and family of its political director, Andre Fields, though they had no relevant political experience.
Warnock’s church is also facing scrutiny in the final weeks before Election Day. The Georgia Secretary of State’s Securities and Charities Division launched an investigation into a charity controlled by the church in mid-October to determine why it is operating in the state without registering with state authorities. Ebenezer Baptist Church, which pays Warnock a $7,417-per-month housing allowance, owns 99 percent of a low-income apartment building through the charity that moved to evict residents during the pandemic for past-due rent as low as $28.55.
Published under: 2022 Election , Georgia , Raphael Warnock , Stacey Abrams