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Graham wants to review ActBlue's source of small-dollar contributions

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMedia and Hollywood should stop their marching-to-Georgia talk Hackers love a bad transition The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump campaign files for Wis. recount l Secretaries of state fume at Trump allegations l Biden angered over transition delay MORE (R-S.C.), who has seen a tsunami of Democratic small-dollar donations flood the South Carolina Senate race, says the sources of the massive amounts of money flowing through ActBlue and other groups need to be reviewed by policymakers.

Graham says that Congress has little idea who’s behind the huge inflows of money that have given his opponent, Jaime Harrison, and other Democratic challengers a major fundraising advantage over GOP incumbents in the final weeks of the campaign.

“Where’s all this money coming from ActBlue coming from? How easy would it be to just have a bunch of pre-paid credit cards?” he asked The Hill.

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ActBlue, a nonprofit technology company founded in 2004, provides online fundraising software to help Democratic candidates and liberal groups amass contributions from small-dollar donors.

“Some of these shadowy figures out there running ads, is there any foreign influence afoot?” Graham asked

“Where is all this money coming from? You don’t have to report it if it’s below $200,” he added, referring to campaign finance rules that don’t require public reporting of individuals who give less than $200. “When this election is over with, I hope there will be a sitting down and finding out, ‘OK, how do we control this?’ It just seems to be an endless spiral.”

Graham suggested that Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseGOP breaks with Trump firing of cyber chief: Adds to 'confusion and chaos' Graham becomes center of Georgia storm Graham says he's talked to officials in two states about election MORE (D-R.I.) may be interested in teaming up on a review of campaign finance practices and the possibility of new regulation.

“I think we’re going to have to up our game in terms of competing with this,” he said, referring to fellow Republicans.

ActBlue funneled a stunning $1.5 billion in small-dollar contributions to Democratic candidates and allied groups in the third quarter of 2020. It helped rake in $500 million in the two weeks after the death of Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgCOVID-19: Justice Alito overstepped judicial boundaries Defusing the judicial confirmation process Conservative justices help save ObamaCare — for now MORE. Senate Republicans quickly vowed to fast-track the confirmation proceedings for President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE’s nominee to replace her, conservative Judge Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettAlito to far-right litigants: The buffet is open Hispanics shock Democrats in deep blue California COVID-19: Justice Alito overstepped judicial boundaries MORE, angering the left.

Harrison raised an astounding $57 million in the third quarter.

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Graham, by contrast, raised $28 million in the third quarter, lagging behind his opponent significantly.

He grumbled about it during the Barrett confirmation hearings and said he is getting closer to the view of colleagues who want to put more regulation on campaign finance.

“I don’t know what’s going on out there, but I can tell you there’s a lot of money being raised in this campaign,” he said.

An ActBlue spokesperson said the group reports even its smallest donations to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), which oversees fundraising for federal campaigns.

An ActBlue spokesperson said the claim that ActBlue does not report contributions under $200 is false.

The spokesperson said ActBlue reports every contribution, including those under $200, and that every federal donation made on ActBlue, including donations of only $1, can be verified on the FEC’s website.

A review of Harrison’s campaign fundraising report filed with the FEC shows that he reports contributions as small as $5 from ActBlue, but the data on file doesn’t reveal the name or address of the individual making the gift as would be reported for a donation above $200.

ActBlue, which reported collecting $2.4 billion in contributions from Jan. 1, 2019, through Aug. 31, is due to file its October monthly report with the FEC this week. Those reports will provide the names, hometowns and employers of donors who give contributions more than $1 and reveal to which candidates the gifts are earmarked.

ActBlue's report includes small contributions of less than $10 that are not attributed to specific campaigns, but an ActBlue spokesperson said those are "tips" that fund the group's operations.

Harrison’s reporting for the 2020 election cycle so far shows that he has accepted $45.7 million in unitemized contributions.

One key Republican who does not appear interested in exploring new regulations on small-dollar fundraising networks such as ActBlue is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTop aide: Biden expected to visit Georgia in push to boost Ossoff, Warnock Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Richmond says GOP 'reluctant to stand up and tell the emperor he wears no clothes' MORE (R-Ky.), a longtime opponent of campaign finance reform.

“Let me give a shout-out to the Democrats. The lion’s share of the money that’s flooding into campaigns is coming from small donors,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday. “I can give you an example. In my own campaign, I’ve got over 700,000 donors and the average contribution is about 35 bucks.”

“I don’t think any kind of campaign finance reform designed to producing fewer people interested is a good idea,” he said. “As you know, I’ve been in the forefront for 25 years of fending off efforts by the government to restrict campaign contribution because it is the only way that normal citizens get to participate, other than voting.”

Other Republicans are suspicious of ActBlue’s seismic impact on the 2020 Senate battleground map, with a few sounding more open to looking into them.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTop GOP senator: Biden should be getting intel briefings GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results Trump keeps tight grip on GOP amid divisions MORE (R-Texas), whose Democratic opponent raised nearly twice as much as him in the third quarter, is also suspicious of ActBlue.

He says a probe into the group’s vast small-donor networks to ascertain their legitimacy would be “worthwhile.”

“It’s probably a good idea,” he said. “My understanding is that any donation under $200 they don’t even have to identify the donor so obviously there’s a lot of opportunity for mischief.”

“So, I think that would be worthwhile,” he said

Democratic candidate M.J. Hegar raised $14 million in the third quarter compared to Cornyn’s haul of $7.2 million.

Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonLoeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection Rick Scott tests positive for coronavirus GOP Rep. Dan Newhouse tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (R-Wis.), whose committee spearheaded the Republican-led investigations into the Clinton-era soft-money fundraising scandals of the late 1990s, said he called for investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden to name longtime aide Blinken as secretary of State: report Understanding mixed results in Pennsylvania key to future elections What's behind the divisions over Biden's secretary of Labor? MORE’s small-dollar bundling network before the 2016 presidential election.

“I was always concerned about it during the Clinton campaign because you had all these allegations of bundling and all these donations coming in just under $200. Anytime you set up these types of systems people can figure out how to exploit the systems,” he said.

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“I think it’s probably a very legitimate avenue for inquiry,” he said.

Johnson said his committee hasn’t looked significantly into the issue and said he would welcome whistleblowers coming forward.

“If we could find evidence of it — we could have some whistleblowers. A lot of our investigations start with people contacting us,” he said. “We will continue to investigate things, but you do need information.”

“I think the amount of money being spent on these campaigns is grotesque,” Johnson added.

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Leadership changes at top cyber agency raise national security concerns Senate passes bill to secure internet-connected devices against cyber vulnerabilities MORE (R-Ohio), chairman of the Homeland Security panel’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, said he would be willing to look at his colleagues’ calls for more scrutiny after the election.

“I don’t know if it’s not explainable. I just don’t know,” he said of the jaw-dropping Democratic fundraising numbers.

Portman said “it’s probably worth looking at” at a later date.

--Updated at 11:13 a.m.