ATLANTA — The state Ethics Committee voted Monday to hold a full hearing on whether a group founded by Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams and its affiliated action fund violated campaign finance laws.

At the heart of the dispute is whether the activities of the New Georgia Project and an affiliated fund were political enough to require registration as a campaign and election committee under Georgian law.

The New Georgia Project was founded in 2013 and is registered as a 501(c)(3) organization under Internal Revenue Service regulations. The New Georgia Action Fund is registered as a 501(c)(4) group.

The two groups focused on registering voters in Georgia and getting voters to the polls.

Such charity and welfare groups are not required to disclose detailed information about donations and expenses. There are limits to your political activities.

A complaint filed with the Ethics Committee alleges that the two groups crossed the line of political activity and failed to register as campaign committees under Georgia’s campaign finance law.

Campaign committees are required to submit public documents detailing their donations and expenses.

The groups have campaigned for election candidates in 2017 and 2018, namely gubernatorial hopeful Stacey Abrams and other Democrats, said Joseph Cusack, the commission’s prosecutor.

Cusack referred to campaign literature urging people to vote for Abrams and other Democrats distributed by the New Georgia Project’s recruiters.

The materials have been marked as supported by the New Georgia Project. Cusack also pointed to scripts advertisers used to urge people to vote for Abrams and identified the New Georgia Project.

The groups operated as independent committees, and should have registered as such and submitted detailed disclosure reports for the campaign, Cusack said.

Aria Branch, one of the attorneys for the New Georgia Project, said the groups outsourced their promotion to another group, PowerPAC. When the promoters distributed these materials, they were acting on behalf of PowerPAC under that organization’s contract with the New Georgia Project, Branch said.

Branch also argued the ethics committee did not provide enough evidence to directly link the New Georgia Project’s spending to advocacy for specific candidates.

Cusack went on to say that the two New Georgia groups should have also registered as electoral committees while working in Gwinnett County in 2019. They encouraged Gwinnett voters to vote for MARTA expansion in a referendum this year, he said.

The preliminary hearing on Monday should determine whether there are valid reasons to proceed with a full hearing.

The commission noted that there were valid reasons, meaning a full hearing will take place in the future, albeit potentially months away.

The case has been pending since 2019.

This story is available through a news partnership with the Capitol Beat News Service, a Georgia Press Educational Foundation project.