He’s a long shot, but one with a clear purpose: Lindsey Graham will almost certainly be the most hawkish politician running for president in 2016.
The senator from South Carolina is the ninth Republican to declare his candidacy, but he stands out nonetheless for his call to send U.S. troops to the Middle East and confront terrorists everywhere as aggressively as possible. “Radical Islam is running wild,” he said during a speech declaring his candidacy. “As president I will make them small, poor and on the run.”
For more than 20 years Graham has had dual careers as a representative, then senator, from South Carolina, and an Air Force lawyer who has been in the reserves since leaving active duty in 1989. This summer he will retire from the military as a colonel after serving more than 30 years. Graham has deployed to combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq and put his experience to use as a member of the Senate Armed Service Committee.
Graham will be outspent by several competing Republican candidates, including Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio and perhaps even Ted Cruz. But his reputation as a national security crusader—plus 20 years in Congress—does provide a natural fundraising constituency. Here are some of the biggest donors Graham will be leaning on to support his quest for the presidency:
Jewish conservatives . Graham has visited Israel at least a dozen times and consistently backed pro-Israel policies, making him one of the Jewish state’s most loyal friends in Congress. That has led to big donations from wealthy Jewish activists. Last year, developer Larry Mizel donated $100,000 to West Main Street Values, a so-called super PAC that supports Graham, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Sam Fox, a businessman and former ambassador gave the group $50,000 in 2013. And megadonor Sheldon Adelson has given Graham modest amounts during the last couple of years, which ought to make the casino magnate a top target for Graham and his 2016 money raisers.
Michael Bloomberg. The former New York City mayor has vowed to use his billions to support candidates who seek bipartisan solutions, which apparently includes Graham. Bloomberg gave $250,000 to West Main Street Values last year, making him the single biggest donor to the super PAC.
Defense contractors. Individual donors affiliated with Boeing (BA), Honeywell (HON), Lockheed Martin (LMT), Northrop Grumman (NOC) and Raytheon (RTN) donated a combined $50,000 during the last two years to Fund for America’s Future, a so-called leadership PAC Graham uses to fund some political activities. Graham recently formed a super PAC called Security is Strength that hasn’t yet filed reports on its fundraising but would be a natural outlet for donors who want to support a candidate who favors robust defense spending. Since it’s a super PAC, there are no limits on what individual or corporate donors can give.
Energy firms. Graham supports expanded oil and gas drilling and nuclear power, which has made him a favorite of firms such as General Electric (GE), EnergySolutions, Fluor (FLR), Murray Energy, Southern Co. (SO) and Scana (SCG). Five of the 10 biggest donors to Graham’s campaigns over the years have been energy firms or people associated with them. Graham isn’t a mere energy-industry mouthpiece, however. Unlike some Republicans, he acknowledges global warming, and the Environmental Defense Fund has praised his efforts to help craft a bill to limit greenhouse-gas emissions.
Lawyers. Law firms have been the single biggest source of Graham’s funds over the years, accounting for about 9% of the money donated directly to his campaigns (rather than to political-action groups). Columbia, S.C.-based Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough has been the top source of Graham’s funds, with the firm and its employees donating $208,000 to Graham since 1994. Harrison, White, Smith & Coggins of Spartanburg, S.C., ponied up another $82,000. Those are decent fundraising sums for a senator from a southern state. As a presidential candidate, Graham will need a lot more.
Rick Newman’s latest book is Liberty for All: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Financial and Political Freedom. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman