Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham has been accused of violating federal election laws for using an intermission at the Supreme Court confirmation hearings to discuss campaign fundraising efforts and call for “help” from South Carolina voters against his Democratic opponent in the November elections.
The Republican senator was discussing his re-election bid against Jaime Harrison, the Democratic senatorial candidate who raised a record-breaking $57 million during the third quarter of his campaign, at a break in the committee hearings when he made the remarks.
Referencing the ongoing confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s third nominee to the nation’s highest court, Mr Graham, a close ally of the president, told reporters on Wednesday: “I think people in South Carolina are excited about Judge Barrett. I don’t know how much it affected fundraising today, but if you want to close the gap … a little bit goes a long way.”
The senator then plugged his campaign website, seemingly encouraging supporters to go and donate to his campaign while speaking to the press in a federal building.
The move was immediately denounced by Democratic lawmakers and legal experts alike as having potentially violated laws which specifically prohibit members of Congress from soliciting or receiving “a donation of money or other thing of value in connection with a Federal election, while in any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties”.
Rep. Eric Swalwell described Mr Graham’s actions as a “crime” in a tweet, tagging the senator’s account and saying he “committed a crime in plain sight”.
Marc Elias, a Democratic lawyer and voting rights advocate, tweeted: “Senator Graham might need a lawyer.”
As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr Graham was overseeing Judge Barrett’s confirmation hearings when he called for the break and spoke with reporters, a moment that was captured by C-SPAN and broadcast in real-time.
The comments quickly went viral, similar to other remarks Mr Graham made this week that stirred controversy when he made a reference to the “good old days of segregation” during the hearings.
Mr Graham later spoke to reporters during a break and said the comments were meant to be sarcastic, while also using the moment to address his re-election campaign and battle against Mr Harrison.
“If anybody was listening to who I am and what I said, you know that it was with deep sarcasm that I suggested that I suggested that some legislative body would want to yearn for the good old days of segregation”, he said. “The point that I’m trying to make is there’s nobody in America, in the legislative arena wanting to take us back to that dark period in American history … And for my opponent to suggest that says far more about him than me.”
He added: "Manufacturing a scenario that Lindsey Graham wants to go back to the days of segregation is not worthy of the times in which we live, it is not worthy of an assault on me … I want to assure the people of South Carolina, that statement was made with dripping sarcasm.”
Recent reports show Mr Graham and Mr Harrison in a tightening race, with both candidates within striking distance of each other and some surveys showing the Democratic challenger with a slight lead over the Republican incumbent.