(CNN)Members of Congress can use campaign funds to hire bodyguards, federal election regulators ruled Thursday — nearly three months after the violent January 6 siege on the US Capitol raised fresh concerns about lawmakers’ safety.
The 5-1 vote by the Federal Election Commission allows lawmakers to use donors’ money for “bona fide, legitimate, professional personal security” against threats that arise as part of their jobs.
The action came in response to a request from officials with the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee and falls in line with previous FEC actions that allow politicians to use campaign money to upgrade security at their homes.
But the commission spent hours of their online meeting tussling over how to properly define security personnel after Democratic lawyers raised the specter of some lawmakers using donors’ money to pay right-wing militia members.
In a Wednesday letter to the commission, Marc Elias and other attorneys representing Democratic campaign committees urged regulators to craft the rules narrowly so that “campaign funds are not improperly used to fund groups organized to harass and intimidate political opponents.”
“In the past election cycle, some individuals who are now Members of Congress displayed troubling ties to extremist groups, including some self-proclaimed ‘militias,’ such as the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, and the Three Percenters,” the Democratic lawyers wrote. “In some cases, these groups purported to provide ‘security’ at events attended by Congressional candidates and Members of Congress.”
One Democrat on the commission, Ellen Weintraub, said she was concerned about lawmakers operating at a far remove from their constituents and that untrained guards could improperly block the public from engaging with elected officials.
“I 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,” Weintraub said.
But Jessica Furst Johnson, a lawyer representing the Republican campaign committees, said lawmakers have pressing security concerns.
The threats they face, she retorted, do not involve “people who are showing up at homes in the middle of the night to have a nice conservation about legislation. We are talking about situations where members are, unfortunately, feeling threatened with their children in their homes in the middle of the night.”