Federal regulators ruled this week that all Congress members may now use money raised from campaign donors to pay for security upgrades at their homes — a change prompted by the shooting last month that wounded House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).
The Federal Election Commission agreed unanimously on Thursday that members of the House and Senate can dip into campaign funds to pay for installing or upgrading security systems even if the member faces no serious threats. Campaign money may be used to install or upgrade security cameras, motion sensors, distress devices and door locks, the commission advised.
In the past, FEC commissioners had permitted three former lawmakers to use campaign funding to pay for security upgrades after specific threats, most recently after former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was shot and wounded in January 2011. But the blanket advisory issued Thursday came just under one month after Scalise was shot at an Alexandria, Va., ballfield during a morning practice for the annual Congressional Baseball Game.
Scalise was one of five people taken to hospitals in the aftermath of an attack by 66-year-old gunman James T. Hodgkinson, who shot 60 rounds at the GOP team before he was fatally shot by police.
Scalise, 51, had another operation Thursday as he continues to recover at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. He “underwent surgery for the management of deep tissue infection related to his bullet wounds,” according to a statement from his family released by the hospital.
“He is in fair condition, and will require careful monitoring to see if and when further interventions are necessary,” the statement said.
The FEC agreed to issue the blanket advisory to lawmakers at the request of House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving, who told the FEC last month that his office has so far this year investigated more than 950 “threatening communications” received by House lawmakers — a spike from 2016, when his office investigated just 902 such threats.
Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), who chairs the House Administration Committee that deals with housekeeping tasks on Capitol Hill, also told the FEC that lawmakers have said they are less concerned about their security in Washington and more about whether staff and family back home are being properly protected.
“Everyone worries about their family at home and I think that’s probably the biggest member concern I’ve heard voiced,” he said in an interview this week. “When you’ve had threats to your home, involving your spouse or your children have been mentioned, those things are really having the biggest impact on members.”
While perhaps out of the ordinary, the FEC said that spending on security equipment falls under federal campaign finance law’s definitions of “ordinary and necessary expenses” that are incurred as part of one’s official duties.
The FEC said there would be no cap on how much a lawmaker could spend on security equipment — but the costs will be reported as part of their regular campaign finance reports.
Adav Noti, a senior director at the Campaign Legal Center, said that such a change might have allowed lawmakers to write off home improvements as necessary security fixes. But the FEC’s advisory “does a really good job of dodging that. It says that they can use campaign funds to pay for sensors and monitors and the monitoring of that equipment, new locks on their houses and that’s about it. That’s what the Sergeant at Arms wanted and that’s what he got.”