Georgia’s 6th congressional district is filled with homey, community charm: tree-lined streets, meandering rivers and picturesque parks. Its solidly red politics are usually just as tranquil.
But Tom Price, the district’s longtime Republican U.S. House member, stepped down earlier this year to join President Donald Trump’s Cabinet. That sparked Tuesday’s special election to fill his seat, which has suddenly made the district the unlikely focus of national political interests willing to spend unprecedented amounts of money.
The barrage of TV ads, email messages and robo-calls, often from organizations headquartered hundreds of miles away, have left some district residents feeling like pawns, not players, in their own congressional election — and some candidates as if they’ve lost control of the race.
“I’m concerned that the election could be decided by the influences coming from the national level and not from within Georgia,” said Liz Hausmann, director of public affairs for the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce.
Federal campaign finance disclosures bolster that notion: Through Sunday, super PACs, nonprofits and other groups independent of any candidate’s campaign have spent $9 million on the Georgia 6th race.
Just one of these outside groups spending money to influence the Georgia 6th election — Athens, Georgia-based Better Georgia Inc. — is headquartered within state lines. Better Georgia Inc.’s $1,070 in spending, all to support Democratic front-runner Jon Ossoff, accounts for less than one one-thousandth of overall non-candidate spending.
Said another way: When the candidates’ own campaign money is excluded, the Georgia 6th special election has attracted about one Georgia penny for every $10 in national cash, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of federal campaign finance disclosures.
Price, who is now Trump’s secretary of health and human services, had cruised to re-election every two years since he first won the seat in 2004, which means this special election is the first time the district has seen more than negligible spending by outside groups.
Many cash-flush organizations such as the pro-Republican Congressional Leadership Fund, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the 45 Committee, the National Rifle Association and Planned Parenthood, are spending money in the district for the first time this century.