Escalating concerns about security threats to members of Congress prompted two Republican campaign committees to ask that lawmakers be allowed to use campaign money to hire bodyguards.
The request to the Federal Election Commission cited a series of recent events, including written and verbal threats to kill lawmakers, demonstrations and vandalism at their homes, and problems they’ve encountered moving through airports. It also cited reported threats related to next week’s impeachment trial.
If granted, the request would significantly expand previous rulings in which the commission allowed lawmakers to use campaign money to purchase or upgrade home alarm systems and other security equipment. The commission is legally required to vote by the end of March, and the votes of at least four of the six FEC commissioners would be needed to approve the request.
“The most practical and effective solution for protecting the safety of Members and their families is the employment of personal security personnel,” said the seven-page request from the National Republican Senatorial Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee.
Lawmakers are prohibited from using campaign money to buy personal items. They can use it only to run for office or pay for expenses related to their official duties. Deciding which expenses are allowed has been considered on case-by-case basis by the FEC.
The new request didn’t mention the Jan. 6 riot by pro-Trump extremists at the Capitol. Members of Congress are protected by the Capitol Police while on the Capitol Hill campus, and some in the congressional leadership receive police protection off the Hill. Democrats have complained about potential threats from some GOP lawmakers, who’ve said they plan to carry guns around the Capitol.
More than 30 lawmakers wrote a letter last week to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and the top Democrat and Republican on the House Administration Committee requesting to be able to use their congressional allowances for personal safety.
At her weekly news conference last week, Pelosi said some changes have already been made to address safety concerns. But she and other leaders “want to have a scientific approach to how we protect members,” she said, and they may “need a supplemental for more security for Members when the enemy is within the House of Representatives, a threat that Members are concerned about, in addition to what is happening outside.”
Democratic campaign committees haven’t commented to the FEC on the advisory request by their Republican counterparts. A previous FEC advisory opinion in 2017 granting broad authority to use campaign money for lawmakers’ home security was bipartisan and came from the House Sergeant-at-Arms following a shooting attack on Republican lawmakers practicing for a congressional baseball game.
Brett Kappel, a veteran Democratic election lawyer with the firm Harmon Curran, said he suspected the FEC would approve the latest request “given the tenor of the times.”
But, he added, there may be a debate among the commissioners “about whether this is going too far and these types of expenditures should come from appropriated funds” rather than campaign money.
Kappel said one commissioner, Steven Walther, dissented from a recent ruling allowing lawmakers to use campaign money to pay for additional wiring and lighting to upgrade home security systems. The request from Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) and was approved by a 5-1 FEC vote in January.
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