The event appears to have the distinction of being the first big 2016 fundraiser to benefit a candidate officially “testing the waters” for a presidential bid. Unlike most of the expected GOP contenders, who are soliciting contributions for leadership PACs and super PACs before they have declared their candidacies, Graham is raising funds the old-fashioned way. He is asking supporters to give up to his group,Security Through Strength, to finance his travels as he considers a bid. If he runs, those donations would then have to be reported as contributions to his campaign committee. Graham's group held its first fundraiser in late January in Greenville, S.C., but Tuesday's lunch marks the organization's big coming-out party.
“He’s a dark horse, but he’s a real solid speaker,” said Ken Abramowitz, a New York venture capitalist who is among those who paid the maximum $2,700 to serve as co-chair of the event. “And I try to meet all the candidates. He’s part of the debate.”
The gathering, which will feature a policy discussion with Graham after Netanyahu’s speech, is being co-chaired by 40 major Republican donors, including casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam. Among the “special guest speakers” who will be in attendance: Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, according to a copy of the invitation obtained by The Washington Post.
The guest list resembles a spin-off of the Republican Jewish Coalition, the influential conservative group that has run ads supporting Netanyahu’s controversial speech before Congress. Matt Brooks, the organization’s executive director, is moderating the program. Among the hosts are nine members of the RJC’s board of directors, including Adelson, venture capitalist Yitz Applbaum, real estate developer David Flaum and home builder Larry Mizel.
Graham, a foreign policy hawk, is highly regarded by many in the organization. He also has been pushing legislation to ban online gambling, a top cause for Adelson, a billionaire who is one of the most sought-after megadonors on the right.
In 2012, Adelson and his family pumped $15 million into a super PAC that helped keep aloft former House speaker Newt Gingrich's presidential candidacy, then gave $30 million to a super PAC backing GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
It remains to be seen how the Adelsons will invest major funds this time. but his advisers have said that the couple's aim is to back a mainstream Republican who can win the nomination, and that the bar for support will be higher.