ATLANTA — A gas-money giveaway in support of Herschel Walker, the Republican candidate for Senate in Georgia, drew the ire of Democrats and voting rights groups in the state, who said the move was both hypocritical and possibly illegal.
The event, organized by the pro-Walker PAC 34N22, aimed to highlight rising gas prices and tie the issue to Senator Raphael Warnock, a Democrat who will run for re-election against Mr. Walker in November. The group handed out $25 fuel vouchers and Walker campaign flyers to motorists in line at a gas station in downtown Atlanta on Saturday as volunteers held signs saying, “Warnock isn’t working.”
Several Democrats and leaders of voting rights groups criticized the event, pointing to a provision of the state’s voting law that bans volunteers from handing out water or snacks to voters while they are waiting in line. Handing out gas vouchers on behalf of a political candidate to motorists who are in line at the pump, they argued, should be considered just as unlawful.
In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, State Representative Bee Nguyen, a Democrat who is running for Secretary of State in Georgia, cited a 2020 incident in which she said a state investigator had demanded that volunteers at a polling place in Metro Atlanta remove all snacks and water.
“Giving away gas vouchers and Herschel Walker flyers at the same time isn’t legal,” she said. “Are they going to do something about it?”
A memo from Mr. Walker’s lawyers shared after the event denied any wrongdoing, saying the gas vouchers were distributed “without condition” and that no voters who received the vouchers were required to vote, register to vote or support any political candidate.
“Warnock’s campaign is upset about 34N22’s community outreach program, not because of any earnest legal concerns, but because they don’t want the public to know Warnock has contributed to record gas prices and the pain Georgians are feeling at the pump,” the memo reads.
Mr. Warnock’s campaign did not comment on the event.
Mr. Walker’s campaign denied any involvement with Saturday’s voucher giveaway after a video surfaced showing Angela Stanton-King, a Walker campaign volunteer, crediting Mr. Walker for the gas voucher event. Campaign laws bar candidates from directly influencing or cooperating with PACs that support them.
“Herschel Walker decided, ‘You know what, we’re going to do this free gas giveaway for the community. I want them to know that I care,’” said Ms. Stanton-King, a former U.S. House candidate who was pardoned in 2020 by former President Donald J. Trump for her role in a car-theft ring, in the video.
The Saturday event — and ensuing backlash — provide the latest look at what is likely to be a bitter and expensive fight for the Senate seat.
Two days before the event, Mr. Warnock released a television advertisement attacking Mr. Walker for his embrace of an aerosol product he claimed could remove Covid-19 from one’s body upon entry to a building. The last few seconds of the ad, entitled “Snake Oil,” flash the words: “Is Herschel Walker really ready to represent Georgia?” as footage plays of Mr. Walker explaining the treatment in an interview.