Lindsey Graham’s support builds among small donors amid ties to Donald Trump

Lindsey Graham continues to reap the benefits of his national visibility as a powerful Republican lawmaker and ally of President Donald Trump.

The U.S. senator from South Carolina raised $3.3 million in the third fundraising quarter of 2019, the most money Graham has ever raised in a three-month fundraising period.

It also marks the biggest quarterly haul of any candidate in South Carolina history — and the most any of Graham’s fellow Republican U.S. Senate candidates raked in between July and September of this year.

He now has $8.4 million cash on hand in what is on track to become the most expensive U.S. Senate race in South Carolina history: Graham is likely to face off in November 2020 against Jaime Harrison, a former state Democratic Party chairman who raised $2.2 million in the third quarter.

Graham is running for reelection at a time when he enjoys soaring popularity with the conservative base, won over by his continued support for Trump — who is now under threat of impeachment — and his viral defense last year of then-embattled Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Graham has looked outside of South Carolina to raise most of his money. Only 13% of his haul from July through September, or $224,237, came from 630 donors in state.

But Graham has grown his network of small donors giving less than $200. In the last quarter, Graham raised 36% of his money from these small donors, amounting to $1.2 million — a significant jump from the previous quarter when he raised $700,000 from donations under $200.

The money flowing into his coffers could be a recognition from supporters that Graham is facing his first viable Democratic challenger, assuming Harrison becomes his party’s nominee as expected. Though engineer Joe Reynolds and businessman Michael LaPierre are challenging Graham in the Republican primary, neither pose a serious threat.

Graham’s connections to Trump might also have helped him win more grassroots support, as trends show allies of the president tend to do well with small donors.

Graham might have even gotten a particular bump for his defense of Trump amid congressional Democrats’ announcement they were launching an impeachment inquiry.

It’s impossible to prove for certain that Graham got a fundraising boost from supporters energized against the impeachment efforts: Democrats set these gears in motion on Sept. 24, just days out from the third quarter fundraising deadline, and campaigns tend to report a flood of contributions right at the end of a filing period as a result of last-minute fundraising appeals.

However, a look at Graham’s contributions shows that the senator received $522,000 in the eight days following the start of impeachment proceedings.

Fundraisers, PACs and bundlers

Grassroots support helped offset the apparent lack of big-dollar fundraisers Graham held this quarter as compared to the previous three months. Still, the Republican lawmaker still took in plenty of money from deep-pocketed donors between July and September.

Graham received nearly $116,000 from three joint fundraising committees, including roughly $67,000 from Graham Majority Fund, which is financed mostly by California donors.

The Graham campaign reported receiving $35,000 in bundled contributions from the Susan B. Anthony List Candidate Fund, which backs politicians who support anti-abortion platforms. As the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Graham is helping confirm conservative judges, who tend to oppose abortions, to lifetime appointments on the federal bench. He also routinely introduces legislation attempting to curb access to abortion after 20 weeks.

Lobbyists and special interest groups also showered Graham with cash.

Norman Brownstein, a founding member of the powerhouse lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, raised $80,000 for Graham’s reelection campaign.

As the incumbent, Graham is favored by PACs representing powerful companies and other interests. PACs for media conglomerates Comcast and NBCUniversal ($10,000), News Corp ($7,500) and Amazon ($3,500) continued giving to Graham through the third quarter.

As a lawmaker closely involved in national security issues, Graham has received $8,000 from Lockheed Martin and $5,000 from Northrop Grumman, major defense technology companies.

Graham has also received $10,000 from Free Syria PAC, which opposes Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Graham is a strong opponent of Assad as well and is closely involved in the affairs of that region, so the campaign contribution may be a gesture of thanks and encouragement to continue looking out for the interests of the opposition.

This past quarter, Graham spent a total of $1.3 million on campaign consultants, office and travel expenses and meals at typical haunts around Capitol Hill. Chick-fil-A was a favorite choice for event catering for the Graham campaign.

And on August 12, Graham — a frequent golfing companion of Trump — spent $367 on accommodations at Trump’s golf result in Bedminster, New Jersey.

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.