Small donors, Hollywood and PACs help Jaime Harrison in cash race to beat Graham

Jaime Harrison continues to raise record amounts of cash for a South Carolina Democrat running statewide against a powerful Republican incumbent.

Harrison, the likely Democratic nominee to face off against U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham next year, raised $2.2 million in the third fundraising quarter of 2019 — the most quarterly money raised by any other Democratic Senate challenger in state history.

He spent a little over $1 million from July through September and now has $2.7 million cash on hand.

Small donors continued to drive Harrison’s fundraising efforts, with national money — from PACs to movie industry wealth — giving him an added boost.

A former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party who is now an associate chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Harrison took in $1.3 million from small donors, the most sought-after class of supporters for political candidates who want to appear grounded and connected to the grassroots. Money from these donors accounted for nearly 58% of his total contributions in the quarter.

“Our campaign is growing and powered by grassroots supporters across South Carolina and the nation,” Harrison said in a statement Tuesday. “This campaign is about bringing hope back into the lives of the people of the Palmetto State and bringing a spirit of public service back to the Senate.”

But as other fellow Democrats running for elected office eschew donations from political action committees to prove they are not beholden to so-called “special interests,” Harrison has made no such pledge. Instead, Harrison has said branching out beyond a small S.C. Democratic donor pool will be the only way to compete with Graham, who has a massive war chest.

Also on Tuesday, Graham’s campaign announced it was breaking records, too. South Carolina’s senior Republican senator raised $3.29 million in the year’s third fundraising quarter, the most any South Carolina political candidate ever raised in the same window and out-performing every other Republican U.S. Senate candidate, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, according to the campaign.

Graham now has nearly $8.4 million in cash on hand, a massive sum that sets up his likely clash with Harrison to be the most expensive race in South Carolina political history.

Outside help

South Carolina donors were the second-highest source of money for Harrison in this year’s third fundraising quarter, giving just over $156,000, but Harrison’s home state made up less than 18% of total contributions over $200, underscoring Harrison’s need to look elsewhere for funds.

The most lucrative state for Harrison during the same period was California, where he took in $296,094. New York came in third for fundraising for Harrison at $80,229.

Harrison also received a boost from union interests.

In this fundraising quarter, Harrison collected $5,000 from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the largest trade union of public employees in the United States. He received $4,500 from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

He was, as well, the recipient of $20,000 from the political action committees of Democratic U.S. senators who hope Harrison will join their ranks.

Though he is running in a primary for the Democratic nomination against economist and former congressional candidate Gloria Bromell Tinubu, Harrison has been anointed by national Democrats, including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, as the most viable challenger to take on Graham in 2020.

The Congressional Black Caucus PAC and Collective PAC — which supports political candidates of color and recently commissioned a poll in South Carolina that found Harrison within striking distance of Graham — wrote checks as well.

Meanwhile, members of the Hollywood liberal class gave sizable donations to Harrison this quarter, too.

Director J.J. Abrams — and his wife, child advocate Kathleen McGrath — collectively gave Harrison $11,200, the maximum amount permitted by campaign finance rules. Another famed film director, James L. Brooks contributed $5,000.

Alan Horn, the chairman of Walt Disney Studios, and his wife, Cindy Harrell Horn, contributed a total of $8,400 to the Harrison campaign.

This money is helpful as Harrison continues to build a fundraising apparatus to propel him into a fiercely-competitive general election campaign. It also shows that his campaign is drawing attention as Graham continues to be a polarizing political figure on the national stage who is galvanizing progressive anger around the country.

But it also could open Harrison up to scrutiny from Republicans who say outsiders, not South Carolinians, want to oust Graham.

“Jaime is a former DC lobbyist with ties to liberal Hollywood money, so I’m surprised he didn’t raise more,” Drew McKissick, the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, said in a July statement at the time of Harrison’s last campaign finance filing. “He’s running against Senator Graham in deep red South Carolina. While out of state money may be flowing to Jaime’s campaign, South Carolina voters aren’t.”

In addition to his work with the state and national Democratic parties, Harrison also has powerful ties to Washington, D.C., propelling his campaign. For years he was a lobbyist with the now-defunct Podesta Group, and before that he was a senior aide on Capitol Hill to U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.

Graham, whose campaign has boasted record-setting fundraising quarters in the lead up to his 2020 reelection bid, has also benefited from PAC money and donors outside of South Carolina.

This story was produced in partnership between McClatchy and OpenSecrets. Redistribution for any purpose requires permission from both parties.

Emma Dumain covers Congress and congressional leadership for McClatchy DC and the company’s newspapers around the country. She previously covered South Carolina politics out of McClatchy’s Washington bureau. From 2008-2015, Dumain was a congressional reporter for CQ Roll Call.