“I’m getting overwhelmed,” he told prime-time host Sean Hannity. Then, he turned to Hannity’s viewers, adding: “Help me. They’re killing me moneywise. Help me. You did last week. Help me again.”
A few hours earlier, on the “Fox & Friends” morning program, Graham delivered a similar message. “My opponent [Democrat Jaime Harrison] will raise almost $100 million,” he said. “I’m being killed financially. This money is ’cause they hate my guts,” he said, apparently referring to Democrats.
Politicians appearing on TV news often sneak in a reference to their campaign websites in an effort to attract supporters and their contributions. But such a direct appeal for donations, especially in a news interview on such a high-profile venue as Fox, is rare.
But it doesn’t regularly feature politicians using their airtime to advance fundraising goals. Graham’s comments assume Fox’s audience is sympathetic to him and supports his reelection.
As it was, Graham’s reelection campaign wasn’t even the intended topic when he was booked on Fox, according to a network spokesperson. The ostensible reasons for interviewing him were to elicit his comments on a Senate report about former vice president Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, and about President Trump’s expected Supreme Court nominee. (Graham has said he favors pushing forward with the nomination only days before the election, despite opposing a vote on President Obama’s nomination of judge Merrick Garland in 2016 under similar circumstances).
Graham seemed to bring up the subject of money unprompted, as a kind of add-on to the interviews. During his interview with Hannity, he slipped it in after the host said, “I’ve got to run.”
Fox “had no knowledge that he would solicit donations on air,” the network said in a statement.
As a general matter, news organizations are broadly exempt from federal campaign finance regulations that prohibit candidates from soliciting funds during TV interviews without a series of disclosures and disclaimers, said Brett Kappel, a Washington lawyer who specializes in campaign-finance, lobbying and government-ethics laws.
The Federal Election Commission has never sanctioned — or even warned — a major media outlet for not having the required disclaimers during a broadcast interview in which a candidate solicited funds, he said.
But any complaint about the lack of disclaimers would implicate both the candidate and the station that broadcasts the solicitation, Kappel said: “Running solicitations without disclaimers would raise the issue of whether [Fox] crossed the line from a protected press entity and became a corporate contributor to Graham’s campaign.” While the likelihood of enforcement action is low, “it would be an issue [Fox] wouldn’t want to have to address.”
Graham, a close ally of President Trump’s who is seeking his fourth term in the Senate, has won reelection with ease in the past. But this year, he is facing a close race against Harrison, a former state legislator and state Democratic Party chair. Recent polls indicate that the race is a toss-up.
Harrison, however, has consistently outraised Graham. In August, he pulled in about $10.6 million, more than Graham’s entire haul during the second quarter, according to federal disclosures. Graham’s support of a speedy vote to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg led to a surge in fundraising for Harrison this week, which may explain Graham’s plea for money on Fox.
Harrison threw Graham’s Fox comments back at him. Over a clip of Graham’s appearance on “Fox & Friends,” he tweeted, “Anybody else get the sense that @LindseyGrahamSC just realized he’s going to lose on November 3rd?”