AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Delta, Georgia Power, AT&T, writing big checks for state political wars ahead

Two big corporate political action committees appear to be gearing up for state primary wars ahead next year.

The Georgia Coalition for Job Creation and the Metro Atlanta Chamber's PAC have combined to raise about $575,000 in big-money corporate checks since about the time the 2015 General Assembly session ended in April, according to the latest disclosure reports.

Combined, they listed having more than $600,000 to spend on upcoming political battles. In the case of the chamber, in a few months it raised more than twice as much as it had  reported raising since the start of 2011.

The Georgia Coalition collected a $100,000 check from Georgia Power in April, another $40,000 from AT&T in May, and $25,000 from nursing home giant PruittHealth in July. It ended July with about $257,000 in the bank.

The coalition was formed after the 2014 session in the wake of a fight over "religious liberty" legislation that corporate giants opposed. Business leaders feared it could open businesses up to boycotts and lawsuits. That spring the coalition supported House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, who faced a Tea Party opponent, and was credited with helping defeat at least two out-of-favor Republican incumbents.

The "religious liberty" bill returned again in the 2015 session, and stalled, but it will be back  next year, especially after the Supreme Court's legalization of gay marriage.  Supporters cast it as a new line of defense to protect people of any religion from government interference , while critics say it would enable businesses to discriminate against gay customers

The second group, Mac PAC, raised more than $400,000 in the past few months. The PAC was a supporter of the Georgia Coalition in 2014, giving $20,000 to the group's cause.

The chamber was one of the leading backers of legislation during the 2015 session that increased taxes and fees to raise about $1 billion a year for new road and bridge projects. Some lawmakers who supported the bill and worry about constituent backlash for voting to raise taxes will be looking for help from backers like the chamber.

Delta Airlines, also a big supporter of the Georgia Coalition, contributed $100,000 to the chamber PAC the day after the transportation bill passed. Home Depot, Graphic Packaging and Pulte Homes gave another $50,000, while Intercontinental Exchange, Premiere Global Services, Genuine Parts and Sun Trust chipped in $25,000.

The PAC has already given out $13,500 since the session, including $4,000 to Ralston's re-election campaign, according to disclosures.

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About the Author

James Salzer has covered state government and politics in Georgia since 1990.