FEC greenlights campaign spending for bodyguards

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Members of Congress will now be allowed to hire bodyguards with campaign funds, according to a new ruling from the Federal Election Commission.

After nearly three hours deliberating and updating drafts of the ruling, the commission said members of the House and Senate may spend campaign dollars to hire security personnel when they are not being protected by Capitol law enforcement on the Hill.

The ruling comes as lawmakers at every level of government are looking to protect themselves amid a flood of threats against them, their families and members of their staff.

The commission will also begin a process designed to give more guidance to lawmakers on using campaign money for personal security needs beyond the hiring of bodyguards.

Some commissioners suggested they had concerns about the message sent by Thursday’s ruling.

“I’ve never thought of us as a country where the leadership of the country had to be surrounded by armed guards and needed to keep the public at arm’s length at all times,” said Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, who nevertheless voted to approve the final ruling.

Thursday’s ruling came in response to a question asked by the National Republican Senatorial Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee. The FEC’s response permitting the use of campaign money to pay for bodyguards builds on a similar ruling from 2017, which allowed members to use campaign money for home security upgrades, as long as the need for additional security was caused by holding public office.

The effect of Thursday’s ruling is that members do not need to present a specific threat nor have Capitol law enforcement make an assessment of the need for additional security personnel.

The ruling comes after the FEC proposed a separate interpretation of the same question in a March 11 meeting, which was criticized by various party campaign committees for being too restrictive in its approach to spending for members’ protection. That draft interpretive rule was removed from the meeting’s agenda.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee also raised concerns that without more clarity surrounding the definition for personal security, campaign funds could be used to pay “fringe militia groups.” The attorneys representing the NRCC and NRSC said that suggestion — that the request might open a door to use campaign funds to hire fringe groups — was “insulting and ridiculous.”

The ruling comes at a time when threats against members of Congress have spiked and lawmakers are seeking new ways to protect themselves from threats of violence. The threats against members tracked by Capitol law enforcement have grown five-fold since 2016, from 902 reported in 2016 to 4,894 reported in 2020. The number of threats this year is on track to grow again.

State legislators have also looked to use campaign money for personal security items like bulletproof vests and pepper spray to protect themselves, their staff members and their families.

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