Attorneys for the two Republican national congressional fundraising committees expressed “serious concerns” this week about what they call the Federal Election Commission’s “inadequate” response to a request that would clear officeholders to use campaign donations to hire bodyguards without violating the prohibition on personal use.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) appealed to the regulator in late January for an emergency ruling on the issue. That request cited “concrete threats of physical violence against Members and their families” in light of events surrounding the Jan. 6 insurrection, which have forced some officials to consider further steps to protect themselves.
Last week the FEC published a draft ruling in response to the request which would allow officeholders to hire security details with campaign funds, but only under certain circumstances: if they are targets of specific threats, or if US Capitol Police have advised personal protection for individual members; but not under hypothetical future scenarios. That response rankled Republicans who had sought permission to muscle up before direct threats emerged. In a letter to the FEC on Wednesday, the GOP groups said that the FEC appeared to be “side-stepping” the question.
“The Draft purports to recognize this concern, but the standards proposed for both residential and personal security personnel would prohibit any proactive action,” the attorneys wrote.
Though the Jan. 6 attack primarily targeted Democrats, Republican lawmakers have also navigated serious threats to their safety in recent months, particularly those who broke with Trump amid his efforts to block the ratification of Electoral College votes. Then-Vice President Mike Pence, who oversaw the process, was threatened with lynching on Jan. 6, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was accosted in an airport by Trump supporters after he refused to challenge the votes. CNN reported in January that some of the ten Republican lawmakers who voted to impeach the then-president had been afforded personal protection after receiving death threats.
Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI)., told MSNBC after his vote to impeach that he and some of his GOP colleagues may invest in body armor. “It’s sad that we have to get to that point, but you know, our expectation is that someone may try to kill us,” he said. More than 30 House members have petitioned leadership to allow them to use taxpayer-funded expense accounts for safety measures, such as hiring personal protection and buying “security items” to keep at home.
The GOP’s initial emergency request pointed to a number of recent threats, including an Associated Press report about “plots to attack members of Congress during travel to and from the Capitol complex” during Trump’s second impeachment trial. It also cites the Jan. 19 arrest of a Queens man who had called on allies to “slaughter” lawmakers, chiefly but not limited to Democrats.
“Trump, we want actual revenge on democrats. Meaning, we want you to hold a public execution of pelosi aoc schumer etc. And if you dont do it, the citizenry will, [sic]” the man wrote in an online post, according to an FBI affidavit. Another post reads more broadly: “We need to go back to the U.S. Capitol when all of the Senators and a lot of the Representatives are back there, and this time we have to show up with our guns. And we need to slaughter these motherfuckers.”
Republicans argue that if the FEC prohibits proactive measures, the decision would de facto scrap the “most valuable” part of its own 2017 advisory opinion, which legalized expenses for electronic home security systems, regardless of threats. That ruling stemmed from an attack that June, when a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) opened fire on Republican representatives practicing for a charity softball game, seriously wounding Louisiana’s Steve Scalise. Officials from both parties have since taken advantage of the option.
But the Republican groups now argue that the threat environment “has, by nearly all accounts, significantly worsened” since then. They cite acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman’s March 3 testimony that ‘there has been a 93.5% increase in threats to members in the first two months of 2021 compared to the same period last year,’” and that “threats have more than doubled overall—by about 119 percent—from 2017 to 2020, with most suspects living outside the Washington region.”
“Yet, the Draft proposes a different, far more burdensome standard for personal security personnel than has been afforded to residential security for the past four years,” the letter says.
The FEC already allows candidates and elected officials to dip into donor contributions for personal security in response to specific, immediate threats incurred in the course of carrying out their official duties, though filings indicate this is relatively rare. For instance, the campaign for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) paid $1,300 for protection at a July 2019 town hall amid a flurry of threats against her and minority colleagues that month. And then-candidate Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) received police protection after “specific threats” in September, and tapped his campaign account for more than $20,000 the week before the election amid allegations that "punks" had destroyed campaign signs at his Asheville home.
In late 2020, the campaign for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) reported “personnel service/equipment” expenses to security firm Atlas Glinn, whose website showcases a photo of a protective team accompanying Cruz at a parade in July 2018. The Cruz campaign paid the company $46,000 between October and December last year, most of it after the election.
The window for comment on the new draft ruling will close on March 18, and the FEC plans to vote on the issue on March 25. Democrats have not filed a similar request.