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Republicans Ask FEC If Campaign Cash Can Be Spent on Personal Security

January 30, 2021 by Dan McCue
Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington. Right-wing extremism has previously mostly played out in isolated pockets of America or in smaller cities. In contrast, the deadly attack by rioters on the U.S. Capitol targeted the very heart of government. It brought together members of disparate groups, creating the opportunity for extremists to establish links with each other. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

WASHINGTON – The Republican fundraising arms for the House and Senate have asked the Federal Elections Commission whether members of Congress can use campaign funds to pay for personal security personnel for themselves or their families.

In a letter dated Jan. 26 but released by the commission late Friday, attorneys for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee seek an expedited opinion on the matter “in light of recent developments that have elevated the threat environment facing members.”

In the past month, not only was their the well-publicized Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump, but two pipe bombs were found outside the headquarters of the Republican and Democratic national committees, and at least two arrests have been made near the Capitol of individuals bearing several rounds of ammunition.

The request for an advisory opinion is signed by Jessica Johnson and Chris Winkelman, of the law firm of Holztman, Vogel, Josefiak, Torchinsky PLLC, counsel to both the NRSC and NRCC, and Ryan Dollar, in-house counsel to the NRSC, and Erin Clark, in-house counsel to the NRCC.

“In light of current events involving concrete threats of physical violence against Members and their families, Members have been compelled to consider further security measures for themselves and their families,” the attorneys write.

“As has been well-documented in the media, Members and their families continue to endure threats and security breaches, which are being timely reported to appropriate law enforcement officials,” they continue.

They note that in the past, the commission has found that the Members can use campaign funds for things like residential security systems and enhanced outdoor home lighting systems if they or their family face a threat of personal harm, and argue allowing members to hire security personnel would not be inconsistent with that and other prior opinions of the body.

When it came to home security systems, the commission concluded “that if a candidate ‘can reasonably show that the expenses at issue resulted from campaign or officeholder activities, the Commission will not consider the use to be personal use.’”

“Over the previous decade, the Commission has provided essential and timely guidance to Senators and House Members in response to heightened security concerns, including in the aftermath of the shootings of Representatives Giffords and Scalise in 2011 and 2017, respectively,” the attorneys’ letter continues. “The current threat environment that Members and their families face must again be met with increased security measures.”

The attorneys go on to say that while previous commission opinions related to the home security of members, “the security needs of Members and their families do not lessen when they are away from their residences.

“To the contrary, their vulnerability to potential threats is significantly heightened when they are away from home,” the attorneys argue. “Yet the responsibilities associated with being elected representatives constantly require Members (and their families) to appear in public settings, and in such settings, the most practical and effective solution for protecting the safety of Members and their families is the employment of personal security personnel.

“Therefore, just as it has concluded that the use of campaign funds for upgraded home security systems does not run afoul of the [commission’s] personal use prohibitions, we ask the Commission to similarly conclude that campaign funds may permissibly be used to pay for personal security personnel since such expenses would not exist irrespective of a Member’s campaign activities or officeholder duties.”

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