When Democrat Stacey Abrams first ran for governor of Georgia in 2018, her lackluster personal finances and a hefty bill from the IRS gave Republicans reason to wonder how she might manage a state budget when she’s struggling with her own debt would have.
Since she’s submitting a second bid this year, that’s no longer an issue.
Abrams now says she’s worth $3.17 million, according to government disclosures filed in March. That compares to a net worth of $109,000 when it first ran four years ago.
Her rapid rise to millionaire status corresponds with her rise in national politics. Since losing to Republican Brian Kemp in 2018, Abrams has emerged as a leading campaigner for voting rights. She was considered a potential running mate for President Joe Biden and is widely credited with organizing voters in Georgia to help him become the first Democrat to carry the state in the presidential election in 28 years. Along the way, she’s made $6 million, mostly fueled by $5 million in payments for books and speeches.
That wealth has exposed her to different criticism from Republicans, who hope to portray Abrams this year as an elite out of touch with average Georgians. Garrison Douglas, a spokeswoman for the national Republican Party, accused Abrams of using her campaign “as a platform for her own financial gain.” During a rally in the state last month, former President Donald Trump knocked on her because she “lives in these beautiful multi-million dollar homes.”
Abrams hasn’t bought a home for more than a million dollars, and Trump spends much of his year at his lavish Mar-a-Lago resort. The leading Republicans running for the gubernatorial nomination — incumbent Brian Kemp and challenger David Perdue — are far wealthier than they are.
In an interview, Abrams said it was ironic that Republicans criticized their financial success, which the party often touts as the result of hard work.
“It’s remarkable to me that the success is now being demonized by Republicans,” she said. “I believe in success. I believe that every person should have the opportunity to develop. And because I’ve spent three years in the private sector, I’ve used all three years, and in that time I’ve done my best not only to be successful personally, but also to do what I can to help Georgians.”
Many politicians build their fortunes after attaining high office. That’s not the case for Abrams, whose loss has propelled her to a level of notoriety unusual for someone whose highest office to date is minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives. She particularly benefited from her status in 2021 before announcing her second run for governor, with her earnings rising to $3.65 million.
Seth Bringman, a spokeswoman for the Abrams campaign, said she gave 37 paid speeches in 2021, including a 12-stop fall tour and standalone performances. She has written, co-authored or re-edited six books since 2019, with another re-edit planned later this year.
Abrams also received more than $700,000 for over three years as executive director of the Southern Economic Advancement Project, an affiliate of the Roosevelt Institute that seeks to improve economic justice in the South. Abrams has not reported any earnings from Fair Fight Action, the voting rights group she founded and formerly chaired.
Abrams, who released a business ledger with a longtime business partner last year, also reports investing in a number of companies. Some are longstanding holdings, including Now Account Network Corp., which funds companies by buying invoices. Abrams joined the board of Heliogen in November, a California company trying to harness sunlight to concentrate heat for industrial processes, power generation and hydrogen fuel production. Abrams reported $65,000 in Heliogen shares.
Kemp has a net worth of approximately $8.5 million, mostly consisting of real estate he developed before running for governor. Perdue is even richer, posting a net worth of $50 million after a career that included being CEO of companies like Dollar General and Reebok. Kemp had an income of $551,000 in 2021 while Perdue had an income of $9.3 million.
Kemp criticized Abrams in 2018 for owing the IRS $54,000 in self-employment taxes that she failed to pay on time. Abrams said at the time that she skipped the payments because her parents needed financial help with collecting a granddaughter and medical bills.
“They can delay IRS payments. You can’t delay cancer treatments,” Abrams said at the time.
Abrams also had $96,000 in student loan debt and $83,000 in accumulated credit card debt as of 2018. She only had a positive net worth because a publisher had paid a $150,000 advance for her first non-fiction book. In that book, Minority Leader, Abrams wrote that she borrowed money at a time when “my understanding of personal finance was barely scratching the surface.”
She paid off her student loans and credit card debt in 2019. When she first ran for governor, Abrams had a meager retirement account of less than $5,000. Now she has more than $725,000 in stocks and bonds.
As her financial picture has brightened, Abrams has also traded from her old townhouse to a larger new home.
The $975,000 property, which she purchased in 2020 just outside the Atlanta city limits near Emory University, is financed by a $760,000 mortgage, according to Abrams’ financial disclosure. She bought her parents a $370,000 3,300-square-foot home in suburban Atlanta in 2019 and owed more than $280,000 in mortgage, records and disclosures show.
It’s unclear how much Abrams pays in taxes or how much she donates to charity, though her fortune includes $560,000 deposited in a “tax account.” Bringman said Abrams will release her tax returns later this year after she files her 2021 taxes.
Kemp spokesman Tate Mitchell said the incumbent believes the state’s financial disclosures are sufficient but will provide additional documentation “if necessary” at a later date. Perdue spokeswoman Jenni Sweat said Perdue has completed state and federal disclosure forms and is “transparent about its finances,” but did not directly respond as to whether it would release its tax returns.
Marko Klasnja, a Georgetown University professor who has studied the causes and consequences of politicians’ wealth, said: “In the US, people don’t care about wealth per se and I don’t think they would see that as a negative. Necessary.”
“I don’t think that’s going to hurt Abrams very much, and I think if people know that’s coming from things like bookstores, they’ll think about it differently than, ‘She’s lining her pockets because she’s on the boards of companies and things like that.’”
Associated Press writer Will Weissert in Washington contributed to this report.