Cruising toward re-election, Graham works on behalf of other GOP hopefuls

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) speaks after his victory in a primary election in Columbia, S.C., on Tuesday, June 10, 2014
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) speaks after his victory in a primary election in Columbia, S.C., on Tuesday, June 10, 2014 MCT

The political reach of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and his money extends far beyond the campaigns in the Palmetto State.

With his re-election to a third six-year term all but assured, Graham is spending and stumping extensively outside South Carolina to persuade voters to elect the first Republican Senate since Democrats won control of the chamber in the 2006 elections.

His leadership political action committee, Fund for America’s Future, has already donated $131,000 to Republican Senate candidates running this fall, according to Federal Election Commission data.

“The purpose of this PAC is to get Harry Reid fired and put the Senate under good management,” said Graham, referring to the Nevada Democrat who is the majority leader in the Senate.

Graham has also given $30,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which supports GOP candidates.

“I collect money from all over the country and South Carolina for my leadership PAC with the understanding that I’m going to help preserve and build a Republican majority,” he said.

Graham stands to benefit if that happens. He told McClatchy that a Republican majority would put him in line to chair at least two Senate subcommittees.

Leadership PACs are fundraising entities that generally donate to other candidates’ campaigns, said Sarah Bryner, research director at the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign finance issues.

“Now we’re in an era where nearly every member of Congress has a leadership PAC,” Bryner said.

She said the PACs are only allowed to donate $10,000 to individual campaigns in a two-year election cycle. While that curtails some of the effects on outcomes, “they can be a way by which members can support allies and build coalitions,” Bryner said.

The top contributors to Graham’s PAC this cycle have been two Southern railroad companies CSX and Norfolk Southern, according to the federal election data.

Of the 34 Senate races beyond Graham’s own, his PAC has aided the campaigns of 25 Republicans on the ballot Tuesday. Although some are in states as far away as Oregon and Alaska, one of Graham’s main targets is just across the state line in North Carolina.

Through three separate contributions, his PAC has donated $10,000 to Thom Tillis, the Republican trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan. Graham has also spoken at North Carolina events to stump for Tillis.

The PAC has also donated $10,000 each to Republican challengers in Arkansas, Alaska and Michigan, as well as an equivalent amount for Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, who is unexpectedly facing a stiff challenge from independent candidate Greg Orman.

Graham said he wants the PAC money to go to the closest races where it will have the most impact.

Boosting less senior senators or new challengers could help Graham’s clout in Congress after the election, said Gibbs Knotts, a political science professor at the College of Charleston.

“He knows that he played a role in getting those senators elected and win their seats,” Knotts said. “He’ll be able to cash in some favors down the line on support for key issues.”

The PAC spent about $55,500 on campaigns in September alone, with another $23,500 contributed in the first half of October, according to the FEC. It has given $5,000 each South Carolina Republican Reps. Joe Wilson and Mark Sanford. It has aided Republican Gov. Nikki Haley’s re-election campaign, as well as the GOP candidates for lieutenant governor and state superintendent of education.

“I try to take care of my delegation and state-wide office holders to be a team player,” Graham said.

The PAC’s spending on the federal level is up from the 2012 election cycle, when it spent about $113,000 on federal campaigns, the bulk of it on Senate candidates.

Sens. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the minority leader, are the top Republican recipients of leadership PAC money overall.