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Graham Turns To Iran Hawks For Campaign Funding

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Last time I wrote about Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) impending presidential campaign, Graham was feeding anti-Semitic tropes over a glass of Riesling, telling the Wall Street Journal that he “may have the first all-Jewish cabinet in America because of the pro-Israel funding.”

So who are the targets of his fundraising efforts?

Alex Lazar, a reporter at the Center for Responsive Politics, has highlighted the potential donor base of “Jewish conservatives” behind West Main Street Values, a super PAC set up to support Graham’s 2014 Senate campaign. Donors included former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Lazar continued:

Two individuals to keep an eye on from this list going forward are Larry Mizel and Sam Fox. Fox, a former ambassador to Belgium during the George W. Bush administration, gave $50,000 to the super PAC. Mizel, a Colorado businessman, ponied up double that amount at $100,000.

Mizel is also chairman of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights group; aboard member on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the country’s largest pro-Israel lobbying group; and a member of the Republican Jewish Coalition(RJC) board of directors. Fox, for his part, is a former chairman of the RJC.”

But these aren’t Graham’s only monetary ties to the RJC’s board of directors.

The top contributors to Graham’s Senate campaign committee from 2009 to 2014 are firms and companies either based in South Carolina or with a significant manufacturing presence in his state. But his fifth largest source of campaign funds, Elliott Management, a New York City based hedge fund, has no clear ties to South Carolina. That didn’t stop Elliott employees from contributing $41,250 to Graham’s campaign committee.

The fund’s founder and CEO, billionaire Paul Singer, funds some of Washington’s biggest critics of a nuclear deal between the P5+1 and Iran, including organizations such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Foundation for Defense of DemocraciesAIPAC and The Israel Project. He also helps bankroll the campaigns of Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) who promised that taking out Iran’s nuclear facilities would only require “several days” of bombing.

Singer, who also serves on the RJC’s board, was rumored to be among Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) key fundraisers, but Singer’s camp denies that the reclusive billionaire is backing any one candidate.

Graham appears to believe that appealing to the minority of Jewish Americans who identify as Republican—29 percent according to a Gallup poll released earlier this year—requires working tooth and nail to derail diplomacy between the P5+1 and Iran, promising Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for example, that “the Congress will follow your lead” in pushing the Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill back in December.

Graham, who previously sought congressional authorization for a military attack on Iran, is now promoting his own “eight principles to ensure we get the right answers and achieve a sound, enforceable deal.”

(Oddly, as noted by the National Iranian American Council’s Ryan Costello, Graham’s first “principle” is that Iran “must not be allowed an enrichment capability greater than the practical needs to supply one commercial reactor.” But supplying such a reactor could actually mean an expansion in the number of operating centrifuges, unlike the Obama administration’s deal which would limit the number of centrifuges enriching uranium to 5,060 for 10 years.)

Graham told the Journal that he would need $15 million to enter the presidential race. His showboating on national security over the past months doesn’t seem to have hurt this effort. He is expected to declare his candidacy on June 1.

Graham may be challenging Rubio’s position as the most hawkish candidate in the GOP’s primary field and the recipient of millions of dollars in RJC-affiliated campaign contributions. Given his expected campaign kickoff next month, however, he may have already raised the required $15 million.

His emphasis on a hawkish national security agenda, his unconditional commitment to following Netanyahu’s lead on congressional opposition to an Iran deal, and his ongoing efforts to walk back the Obama administration’s nuclear negotiations with Iran would suggest that Graham is looking to challenge Rubio’s grip on neoconservative campaign funding.

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Bret Stephens is a columnist for the New York Times who previously worked at the Wall Street Journal and the neoconservative flagship magazine Commentary.


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