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Before hitting opponent for work at lobbying firm, Lindsey Graham raised money from them

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U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 6, 2020. Graham has been running TV ads in South Carolina criticizing his Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison for working for the Podesta Group. But during Graham's last reelection campaign, the South Carolina Republican held a fundraiser with more than a dozen Podesta Group lobbyists. File/AP

COLUMBIA — For the past month, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has been running TV ads in South Carolina criticizing his Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison for working for the Podesta Group, a now-defunct but once-influential lobbying company.

But Graham was not always so opposed to the the high-powered firm.

During Graham's last reelection campaign, the South Carolina Republican held a fundraiser with more than a dozen Podesta Group lobbyists at a Capitol Hill townhouse owned by the firm's co-founder, Tony Podesta, according to an invitation obtained by The Post and Courier.

Attendance at the April 11, 2013, breakfast fundraiser cost $1,000 for individuals and $2,000 for political action committees, according to the invitation. Federal disclosures show Graham raised more than $14,000 from Podesta Group lobbyists over the course of his 2014 campaign.

In a pair of TV ads that began airing last month, Graham has brought attention to Harrison's work at the Podesta Group, noting it was co-founded by Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign chairman John Podesta, the brother of Tony Podesta.

Harrison worked from 2008 to 2016 at the Podesta Group, which hired Republican and Democratic lobbyists. Harrison did not attend the fundraiser, and he did not donate to Graham.

Graham has specifically criticized Harrison for one of his clients, Fortress Investment Group, which came under fire for foreclosing on the homes of Hurricane Katrina victims years before Harrison began lobbying on their behalf.

At least two of the Podesta Group lobbyists who attended the 2013 Graham fundraiser and donated to Graham's campaign, Randall Gerard and Michael Quaranta, also lobbied for Fortress Investment Group. 

After rising to become one of Washington's most well-known influence shops over almost three decades of work, the Podesta Group shuttered in 2017 as it became entangled in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. 

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An indictment of President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort accused him of hiring the Podesta Group to lobby for a nonprofit with ties to the Ukrainian president, violating foreign lobbying rules. The Podesta Group was not charged and an investigation into their involvement with Manafort ended in 2019.

While the firm was often viewed as Democratic due to the Podesta brothers' liberal politics, they also hired Republicans, including the firm's then-CEO Kimberley Fritts, who was among those involved in the Graham fundraiser.

In total, about 60 percent of campaign donations from Podesta Group employees in the 2014 election cycle went to Democrats and about 40 percent went to Republicans, according to data collected by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Dozens of lawmakers in both parties benefited.

Rather than a substantial partisan bias, the donations tended to favor incumbents, as they received almost 90 percent of the money. The firm's employees spent more than $600,000 overall that cycle on campaign contributions.

Graham campaign spokesman T.W. Arrighi noted that the senator has never taken money from the Podesta brothers themselves, nor Hillary Clinton, while Harrison "made millions of dollars lobbying for clients that foreclosed on hurricane victims, were fined for Medicaid fraud, and were suspended by the government for misleading their customers."

"Accepting contributions from conservatives who work for a liberal company isn’t a bad thing, but being a high-paid, liberal lobbyist at the expense of South Carolinians sure is," Arrighi said.

The townhouse used for the Graham fundraiser was not Tony Podesta's actual home but was used as a venue to host fundraisers and other receptions, according to a 2013 report by the Washington Examiner. 

Asked about Graham's criticism of the Podesta Group in light of his own connections to the firm, Harrison campaign spokesman Guy King said, "After 25 years in Washington, South Carolinians have come to expect this level of hypocrisy from Lindsey Graham."

The high-profile race between Graham and Harrison has become increasingly competitive in recent months. A poll out Wednesday from Quinnipiac University showed the two candidates tied with less than 7 weeks left until Election Day.

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

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