'Law and order' Lindsey Graham flagged for possible campaign finance violations

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The Federal Election Commission says it appears Sen. Lindsey Graham's campaign took excessive contributions and failed to make required disclosure filings.

The campaign of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has been flagged for possible election finance violations.

In a letter dated Sept. 28, brought to light by the progressive research group American Bridge 21st Century, the Federal Election Commission writes that Team Graham, Inc.'s July filings disclose "one or more contributions that appear to exceed the limits" for annual contributions to federal candidates.

It also notes that "your committee may have failed to file one or more of the required 48-hour notices regarding 'last minute' contributions (to include loans, in kind contributions, and advances) received by your committee after the close of books for the 12 Day Pre-Primary Report."

Like Donald Trump, Graham has made "law and order" a major theme of his 2020 reelection campaign.

"Law and order is on the ballot this November," Graham tweeted on Sept. 17. "Join our movement."

The letter from Federal Election Commission indicates that Graham's campaign may have violated federal election law.

Paul Seamus Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at Common Cause, said the failure to disclose the late donations was the more serious concern: "It is important. Voters deserve this disclosure information. Congress has decided it's important for voters to have this information. The Supreme Court has decided it's important for voters to have this information. It's not optional."

Ryan said that excessive contributions are a fairly common accounting problem that is easily fixed by the campaign refunding the amounts that are over the limit.

While he noted that those minor violations are not a big deal, he said, "When I see a repeat offender, habitual violator, it's worth commenting."

Team Graham has been flagged for these and other accounting issues repeatedly in the past.

While the FEC's latest letter warns, "Failure to adequately respond by the response date noted above [Nov. 2] could result in an audit or enforcement action," Graham is unlikely to face any immediate punishment for the excessive contributions even if he does not address them. The bipartisan agency currently lacks a working quorum, leaving it functionally unable to enforce election laws.

Of the six FEC commissioner seats, three are currently vacant. Trump said in June that he intends to send the Senate a nomination to fill one those seats, but he and the GOP-controlled Senate have not moved forward with the confirmation process.

Erin Chlopak, director of campaign finance strategy at the Campaign Legal Center, said in an email that letters like this are "generated pretty routinely and often flag common mistakes that can be fairly easily and quickly corrected." But, she wrote, it "highlights an important issue affecting our political process right now: the agency whose sole responsibility to investigate and enforce violations of our nation's campaign finance laws cannot do its job. The FEC's lack of quorum for much of the 2020 election cycle and especially in the months and now weeks leading up to a presidential election means that more serious violations of law will go uninvestigated and unenforced."

Common Cause's Ryan noted that federal law allows the FEC to automatically impose a penalty when campaigns fail to file required disclosures, as the Graham campaign appears to have done, without a vote of its commissioners. "It's the only area of federal law that imposes a penalty on someone who violates the law without a commission vote."

Graham is facing a very tough reelection race against Democrat Jaime Harrison; recent polls show the race tied. Harrison has significantly outraised the incumbent over the past several months.

In recent days, Graham has gone on Fox News to beg for donations. "I'm getting overwhelmed," he told viewers last Thursday. "Help me. They're killing me moneywise. Help me. You did last week — help me again."

A spokesperson for the Graham campaign did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.