Ethics panel admonishes Graham
The Senate Select Committee on Ethics formally admonished Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in a letter Thursday for soliciting campaign contributions for the 2022 Senate runoff race in Georgia during an interview with Fox News in the Russell Senate Office Building.
The Ethics Committee found that Graham “directly solicited campaign contributions” on behalf of Republican Senate candidate Hershel Walker “five separate times” during the nine-minute interview with Fox.
The panel concluded that Graham “impermissibly conducted campaign activity in a federal building” and that his actions violated the standard that senators may only use public resources for official actions and not for partisan political activity.
“Your actions failed to uphold that standard, resulting in harm to the public trust and confidence in the United States Senate. You are here by admonished,” Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Vice Chairman James Lankford (R-Okla.) wrote in the March 23 letter to Graham.
The panel revealed that it found that Graham violated Senate standards of conduct in October of 2020 when he “directly solicited campaign contributions” for his own campaign committee” during a media interview in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
Coons and Lankford explained the committee determined that conduct was “inadvertent, technical, or otherwise of a de minimis nature” and eventually dismissed a complaint about the incident in March of 2021. Graham was informed of that finding and action through a private letter.
The Ethics panel, however, considered the October 2020 infraction of Senate rules in its decision to publicly admonish Graham on Thursday.
It noted that Graham solicited contributions for Walker’s campaign “despite the Committee’s specific guidance following your violation in October of 2020.”
The committee informed Graham that it initiated an inquiry of Graham’s solicitation of funds for Walker after receiving a complaint that included a link to a video clip of the interview.
Walker lost to Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) in the December runoff.
The panel acknowledged that Graham provided information to the committee during the inquiry.
The Senate ethics manual states that federal law — 18 U.S.C. Section 607 — restricts the solicitation or receipt of political contributions in federal buildings or other federal facilities.
The states that “it shall be unlawful for any person to solicit or receive any contribution … in any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties.”
The letter is notable as the Ethics Committee rarely takes public action against sitting senators.
The panel admonished Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) in April of 2018 for violating Senate standards by “knowingly and repeatedly” accepting gifts “of significant value” from a supporter without obtaining official approval and for failing to disclose those gifts.
The Department of Justice indicted Menendez in 2015 for accepting improper gifts but failed to convict him at trial.
The Ethics panel publicly announced in November of 2017 that it had opened a preliminary inquiry into allegations against then-Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) after five women accused him of sexual misconduct.
Franken later apologized for his behavior.
This story was updated at 7:36 p.m.
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