Small donor base behind Graham-supporting super PAC

Greenville News Washington bureauApril 19, 2014 

On left - US Senator Lindsey Graham On right- the GOP primary challengers (clockwise from top left)) Bill Connor, Det Bowers, Lee Bright, Benjamin Dunn, Nancy Mace, Richard Cash

THE STATE

— A political action committee supporting Sen. Lindsey Graham’s re-election has significantly increased its budget with a handful of big donations, according to its latest public filing.

The West Main Street Values PAC, which can accept checks of any size, raised $193,000 in the first three months of the year from seven donors. More than half came from a Denver-based home builder.

The super PAC, run by former South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson, is allowed to spend money on Graham’s behalf but not coordinate with the candidate or his campaign.

Graham, targeted by tea party conservatives, has six challengers in the June 10 Republican primary.

West Main Street Values PAC started the year with $25,000. It had $193,500 as of March 31.

Graham’s own re-election account contains $6.85 million, according to his campaign. The campaign can accept donations up to $2,600 from individuals and up to $5,000 from PACs, per election.

Super PACs such as West Main Street Values, by contrast, can accept unlimited amounts of money from donors, including businesses and unions.

While the super PAC will do some traditional campaigning with direct mail and television advertising to support Graham, it also will focus on voter turnout, according to Walter Whetsell, owner and president of Starboard Communications in Lexington and one of the PAC’s founders.

“The plan for us would be — because Sen. Graham’s own campaign is funded at the levels that it’s funded — to use our money and resources to help him as much as we can on the ground in traditional grassroots-like activities and use new social media tools,” Whetsell said.

“Most of our resources will be focused on the ground game and social media.”

So far this year, the single biggest donor to West Main Street Values PAC is Larry Mizel, chairman and CEO of MDC Holdings, parent company to Richmond American Homes, who gave $100,000 on March 19.

Mizel is no stranger to political giving. Since the 2010 elections, Mizel has given $377,000 to party committees and candidates around the country (not including the check to West Main Street), according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Most of the beneficiaries are Republicans, but he’s also supported Democrats, especially those in the Colorado delegation.

His only other major contribution to a super PAC was $100,000 in 2012 to American Crossroads, a GOP organization founded by former White House political adviser Karl Rove.

Mizel is a founder and current chairman of the board of trustees at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a global Jewish human rights organization that supports Israel and educates on the lessons of the Holocaust.

Another big donor to the West Main Street Values PAC is Robert Kargman, owner of the Boston Land Co., a real estate firm in Massachusetts.

Kargman gave $25,000 on March 28, according to the PAC’s report to the Federal Election Commission. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee lists Kargman as a member of its national board of directors.

AIPAC’s current chairman, Michael Kassen of Connecticut, gave $10,000 to West Main Street Values PAC on March 27.

Graham is a strong supporter of Israel and advocates helping defend the country if it’s attacked.

So far, the only independent expenditure the PAC has reported to the Federal Election Commission was $9,000 worth of direct mail advertising last August. The PAC is also promoting a 90-second pro-Graham YouTube video that has more than 7,000 views.

The PAC is named for the street in Central where Graham’s parents owned a pool hall while he was growing up.

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