Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was formally admonished by the Senate Ethics Committee in a public letter on March 23 for allegedly soliciting campaign contributions in a federal building in 2022.
The committee, in their letter (pdf) to the Republican lawmaker, said they had reviewed an allegation that Graham “violated Senate Rules and related standards of conduct” by soliciting campaign contributions in a federal building and found that his conduct was “contrary to Senate standards of conduct.”
According to the committee, Graham allegedly solicited campaign contributions in support of Georgia Republican senatorial candidate Herschel Walker “five separate times” during an interview with Fox News conducted in the Russell Senate Office Building on Nov. 30, 2022.
Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) ultimately won reelection on Dec. 6 in the runoff against Walker.
The committee said that Graham’s interview lasted just over nine minutes and that four minutes of the discussion was devoted to the 2022 senatorial run-off election in Georgia.
“Your actions on November 30, 2022, represented a repeat violation of Senate standards of conduct,” the committee said, noting that Graham had previously “engaged in an unplanned media interview in the Dirksen Senate Office Building” on Oct. 14, 2020, during which he allegedly “directly solicited campaign contributions” for his campaign committee.
‘Harm to the Public Trust’
“While the Committee concluded your conduct violated Senate standards of conduct, it considered several mitigating factors, and in accordance with the Committee’s Rules of Procedure, determined your conduct was ‘ inadvertent, technical, or otherwise of a de minimis nature,'” they said, adding that the matter was dismissed in March 2021.
Graham was then notified of the Committee’s findings and action in March via a private letter, Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Vice Chairman James Lankford (R-Okla.) said in the March 23 letter to Graham.
The Committee noted that it is charged with upholding the ethical standards of the U.S. Senate, which it said is “a responsibility both broader than and distinct from criminal law.”
“Applying this standard to your conduct, the Committee finds that you did solicit federal campaign contributions and otherwise impermissibly conducted campaign activity in a federal building,” they wrote. “Further, you made these campaign solicitations despite the Committee’s specific guidance following your violation in October 2020. The Committee does acknowledge that you did self-report your conduct to the Chairman and Vice Chairman.”
“The public must feel confident that Members use public resources only for official actions in the best interests of the United States, not for partisan political activity,” Coons and Lankford concluded. “Your actions failed to uphold that standard, resulting in harm to the public trust and confidence in the United States Senate. You are hereby admonished.”
Graham Says It Was a ‘Mistake’
Coons and Lankford acknowledged that Graham provided information to the committee during its inquiry.
The Senate ethics manual states that under federal law—18 U.S.C. Section 607—there should be no soliciting or receiving contributions in a federal building by any Member, officer, or employee.
It is unclear if Graham will face any criminal penalties for his actions.
In a statement Thursday, Graham said: “It was a mistake. I take responsibility. I will try to do better in the future.”
The move by the committee is an unusual one although Graham is not the first senator to receive an admonishment. In 2018, the committee said that Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) had violated congressional rules by “knowingly and repeatedly” accepting impermissible gifts of “significant value” over a six-year period from Dr. Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye doctor who was convicted of Medicare fraud earlier that year.
The Department of Justice had indicted Menendez in 2015 for accepting improper gifts but his trial ended with a hung jury and prosecutors subsequently asked the judge to dismiss the charges against him.
However, the committee later found that Menendez violated Senate rules and ordered him to repay the gifts at their fair market value.
Prior to that, former Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) was admonished in 2012 (pdf) for “improper conduct” due to his communications with an aide to former Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) during the one-year “cooling off period” after he left the Senate in which former Senate staffers are prohibited from lobbying their former employer.
Reuters contributed to this report.