Sen. Lindsey Graham has again aggravated many conservative critics, this time with his “Gang of Eight” contribution to the immigration reform bill that passed the Senate on June 27.
But if our state’s senior senator faces a major Republican primary challenge from the right next year, he won’t enter that battle unarmed: He has already raised more than $6.25 million for his campaign, including more than $1.4 million since April – Graham’s largest contribution total ever for a single quarter.
Beyond that impressive campaign-cash flow, though, lies this persisting flaw in on our modern political system: Running for office in the U.S. has become such an expensive proposition that candidates must spend a significant chunk of their waking lives raising money.
This increasingly time-consuming trend isn’t confined to presidential, congressional and gubernatorial contests. Even many municipal council and school board contests have become financial arms races of sorts.
Congress has repeatedly tried, and failed, to craft campaign-finance laws that can pass the Supreme Court’s constitutional tests. And some well-intentioned regulations that haven’t been overturned have merely created new loopholes elevating the fundraising stakes – and the demands on candidates’ attention.
As for Graham, most pundits favor him to win a third term next year. Yet there’s also an expert consensus that if he does face a serious electoral risk, it will come in the GOP primary.
Upstate businessman Richard Cash has already announced that he will run in the primary against Graham.
State Sen. Lee Bright of Spartanburg and Citadel graduate Nancy Mace also are reportedly pondering getting into the race.
And former S.C. Treasurer Thomas Ravenel told WTMA-AM 1250 morning-show host Tara Servatius on Wednesday that he is considering seeking Graham’s seat as an independent. He said that if he runs, he would finance his campaign with $5 million of his own money.
But surely no sum would suffice to return Ravenel to public office. He resigned less than six months into his tenure as state treasurer in 2007 after being disgraced in a cocaine scandal. He later pleaded guilty to a federal drug charge and was sentenced to 10 months in prison.
Meanwhile, however, campaign money has been talking louder than ever at the ballot box in recent elections.
And when high-stakes fundraising becomes politicians’ overwhelming priority, losers – including voters – abound.