By Mary Orndorff Troyan, Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Sen. Lindsey Graham's considerable cash advantage over his primary challengers is due in part to his strong national fundraising, records show.
The Seneca Republican is running for his third term and has just started dipping into his $7.6 million campaign account to blanket the state with advertising. His opponents' accounts, tiny by comparison, have relied mostly on small donations that are financing relatively low-budget campaigns, according to the latest reports filed with the U.S. Senate.
Graham's report for the last three months of 2013 reflects a national fundraising tour de force. In one quarter, he took in nearly $1.3 million from people and political action committees around the country.
On Tuesday, the impact of Graham's financial resources became apparent when his campaign announced a major statewide advertising blitz that will spend more than $100,000 airing a one-minute radio spot and a 30-second television spot.
"Boy, is he on offense," Clemson political science professor Dave Woodard said. "His strategy seems to be to bury these guys right out of the gate and not give them any chance to get any traction."
In the fourth quarter of last year, Graham's campaign got a significant boost from employees of General Electric, starting with chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt and his wife, Andrea Immelt of Connecticut. For the primary and general campaigns, the couple gave a total $10,400.
The company's lobbyist, Nancy Dorn, bundled $46,200 in donations, according to a separate report filed with the U.S. Senate. GE's political action committee also gave the maximum $10,000. And FEC records list several top GE executives as individual donors of $1,000 or $2,000 each.
The new report is also flush with hundreds of donations from people in California, New York, Florida and Texas. Even before the latest filing, Graham's donors were split almost evenly between in-state and out-of-state residents, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
"He is just daring anybody to match him," Woodard said.
Graham's South Carolina donors include J. Michael Jernigan of Charleston, CEO of Select Health of South Carolina, who added $454 to his total $4,994 donation this cycle; Emory Main of Charleston, president of Main Waters Management, who added $1,000 to his $2,020 total; David Campbell, president and COO of the communications firm Chernoff Newman in Columbia, $5,010; and Patrick Cawley of Mount Pleasant, CEO of Medical University of South Carolina, $500.
Other big-name Graham donors include Henry Kravis, cofounder of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., $5,200; Brent Scowcroft of Bethesda, national security advisor to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, $1,000; Thomas Kean, former governor of New Jersey, $500; Robert McNair of Houston, CEO of the Houston Texans, $5,200 total; Herb Kelleher of Dallas, founder of Southwest Airlines, $1,000; and David Weinreb, CEO of Howard Hughes Corp. in Dallas, $1,000.
Political action committees account for a large part of Graham's fundraising, which is typical for incumbents but not for Graham's challengers. In the fourth quarter, PACs gave almost $185,000 to Graham's re-election bid, including $5,000 from the leadership PAC affiliated with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and $10,000 from the leadership PAC run by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
While Graham drops multiple five-figure checks on consultants, polling, and advertising, the expense sheets of his GOP challengers are a more modest exercise in Facebook ads, gas tank fill-ups, signs and web site design fees.
Of those challengers, Nancy Mace, who owns a public relations firm in Charleston, raised the most during the last quarter of last year, at $253,000.
Some of her most recent individual donors include Anthony Barwick of Sumter, president and CEO of the Palmetto Pigeon Plant, $1,000; Walter Carr of Hennahan, president of Carr Properties, $500, for a total of $1,500; Greenville's Charles Stone, owner of the real estate appraisal firm Stone and Associates, $1,000; Andrew Falatok of Spartanburg, president of Tex Mach Inc., $2,000; and Charleston's Scott Woods, president of the South Carolina Federal Credit Union, $500.
Mace spent $124,000 during the quarter, mostly on advertising, campaign managers, fundraising consultants and renting fundraising lists from various PACs, such as the Tea Party Leadership Fund based in Virginia. She ended 2013 with $241,000.
Richard Cash has maintained a steady fundraising clip since he entered the race early last year. In the last quarter of the year, he raised $76,000, mostly in small amounts from individual donors.
They include Kevin Mobley, a Greenville chiropractor, $500; auto dealer Beverly Odum of Greenville, $2,500; Ronnie Burton of Greenville, a State Farm insurance agent, $1,000; and James Freeman of Seneca, owner of Spill the Beans Clemson LLC, $300.
Cash spent $58,000 during the period, leaving him with a balance of $255,000 to start 2014.
State Sen. Lee Bright of Spartanburg started the year with just under $50,000. He raised about $52,000 and spent more than $76,000 during the last quarter of 2013.
His donors include Dianne Belsom, president of the Laurens County Tea Party, who gave another $100 for a total of $300; Bonnie Latshaw and Trent Latshaw of Latshaw Drilling in Tulsa, Okla., who each gave $2,600; and Bauer Vaughters and Deedee Vaughters of Aiken, who gave $2,600 each.
Bright's only PAC contribution is from the Republican Liberty Caucus PAC based in San Diego, Calif., which gave $500. So far in his campaign, Bright has raised enough to afford several consultants on political strategy and grassroots work, produce campaign videos and put a lot of miles on the road, according to his expense list.
Bill Connor, a lawyer in Orangeburg, raised $43,800 from mid-November through Dec. 31 from individual donors, including Florence County Treasurer Dean Fowler Jr., $500; Connor's law partner, Michael Horger, $2,600; and Verlon Wulf of Surfside Beach, president and owner of Carolina Cool Inc., $500.
During that same period Connor spent $30,200.
Connor is the only GOP challenger to Graham with a campaign debt. He personally loaned his campaign $210,000, and started this election year with $223,500.
A fifth challenger, Det Bowers, a church pastor from Columbia, didn't announce his candidacy until earlier this month and has not filed a campaign finance report yet.
The Republican primary is June 3. Candidates have until March 30 to qualify.
Woodard said Graham's advantage is formidable, but the race could tighten if it draws attention from national super PACs intent on ousting senators they deem not conservative enough.
"If they line up one person as an alternative to Graham, that's the only way I think they can get to a runoff," Woodard said. "But people all around the state can't get to know you on just $200,000 or $300,000."