Republican lawmakers want to use campaign funds to protect themselves — from their own voters

Unusual FEC request cites the Jan. 6 Capitol attack — a mob riot led by Republican voters and Trump supporters

Published February 1, 2021 5:30PM (EST)

Lauren Boebert (JASON CONNOLLY/AFP via Getty Images)
Lauren Boebert (JASON CONNOLLY/AFP via Getty Images)

Both of the national political committees dedicated to electing Republicans to Congress have asked the Federal Election Commission to allow lawmakers to use campaign donations to hire bodyguards, citing heightened fears related to the Jan. 6 insurrection and its aftermath — an attack overwhelmingly carried out by Republican voters.

In a letter sent last week, attorneys for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee requested guidance on whether regulations on campaign spending cover "personal security personnel" to protect members of Congress and their families from "threatened harm."

"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 letter says. "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."

While the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol chiefly targeted Democratic leaders, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed fears for their safety. Last week, more than 30 members asked House leadership to grant broader use of taxpayer-funded allowances to hire security in their local district offices.

Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., told CNN on Jan. 13 that he was afraid of threats that would follow his decision to break with the overwhelming majority of his party and vote to impeach former President Trump.

"I am not going to let that sway my decision," Meijer said. "I think if we give the assassin's veto, if we give the insurrectionist's veto, we lose something in this country, and I won't let that happen again." He later told MSNBC that he plans to buy 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."

Federal guidelines currently allow lawmakers to put campaign funds towards installing and upgrading home security systems without violating prohibitions on personal use, but the regulatory body has not ruled on personal protection. Only a handful of candidates have reported security details as expenses over the years, campaign filings show. In 2013, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., spent about $30,000 in campaign cash on travel expenses for his security team, but filings show that he appears to have reissued those payments. In a single week between Oct. 29 and Nov. 7 last year, however, Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., dropped more than $20,000 on personal security, some of that explicitly for protection on election night. A few weeks before those hires, Cawthorn, who complained that some young "punks" vandalized campaign signs outside his home. Later, at a December event, Cawthorn told a crowd of young supporters to "lightly threaten" their elected representatives while urging them to overturn the results of the presidential election.

While the FEC advisory process typically lasts up to two months, the GOP committees — citing a number of public incidents, news reports and a Jan. 19 arrest for threats to murder lawmakers — asked the six-member board to expedite the process. Trump's upcoming impeachment trial appears to figure prominently, with the letter citing an Associated Press report that "law enforcement officials are examining a number of threats aimed at members of Congress as the second [impeachment] trial of President Donald Trump nears," including "plots to attack members of Congress during travel to and from the Capitol complex during the trial."

Prior to the Jan. 6 attack, three newly-elected Republican members made headlines for their politically-driven defiance of local and federal laws regulating the carrying of firearms in Washington, D.C., and on the House floor. Salon reported that one of them, Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, was given a customized Glock at a private event last week, which would be prohibited by law. After Salon contacted Boebert about the gift, she issued a statement to say that she had not accepted the gun but planned to pay for it in the future, which would probably be legal.

Following the Jan. 6 attack, some Democratic lawmakers expressed fear of their Republican colleagues, some of whom have expressed solidarity with groups involved with the riot. A group of 31 Democrats, concerned about whether some of the rioters had inside help, sent a letter to the acting House sergeant at arms last month asking for a review of visitor logbooks and closed circuit video from the day before the siege. The Democratic counterparts to the GOP national committees have so far not filed a similar letter to the FEC.

If the FEC grants the GOP's request, it is unclear whether or how it could restrict lawmakers from hiring personal security details that included members of fascist or anti-government organizations that were involved in the riots. Longtime Trump associate Roger Stone frequently receives protection from the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, who escorted him in Washington on the night before the Jan. 6 riots. Boebert has drawn criticism for her public appearances with members of militia groups. At least one militia member is connected to the biker group that presented her with the customized Glock, and later shared video of the event on social media.

By Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger was a staff writer at Salon (2020-21). Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

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Campaign Donors Capitol Riot Fec Lauren Boebert Madison Cawthorn Proud Boys Reporting Republicans