Big spending on personal security ignites post-Jan. 6 debate over members' budgets

These issues, all published in the recent Campaign Funding Data, pose a challenge many lawmakers are keen to address this month: How can the strict rules on the cost of personal security for members of Congress be updated?

“This is a very dangerous moment,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., A senior Democrat who has long paid for her own safety and who has seen increasing threats as a black woman this year.

“We need to be able to do our jobs and not feel intimidated or harassed,” she said. “Many members who didn’t think about it before January 6th are thinking about it.”

Top Democrats and Republicans are already in talks to provide more flexibility in using official funds under a massive, likely billion-dollar, security funding package expected to be released within weeks. According to the current regulations, the legislators are only able to spend their official budgets to a limited extent. For example, bulletproof vests and security guards are allowed for town halls, security systems for a member’s home and bodyguards for unofficial travel are usually not allowed.

“It’s just crazy we’re having this conversation at all, but it’s the reality of who we live in,” said Rep. Tim Ryan, Ohio, whose spending board oversees the Capitol’s security funding.

The Ohio Democrat is one of many lawmakers pushing for official funds to be used for a wider range of security purposes, rather than relying on campaign money, which it describes as “unfair”, to use donors.

“If you’re a governor of a state – that might be smaller than a congressional district – you Get a state highway patrol, “Ryan said, pointing out that when many lawmakers leave the Capitol, you’ll be alone.”

Many Republican lawmakers also said that change can’t come fast enough.

“I don’t care how they do it as long as they do it,” said Rep. John Katko (RN.Y.), who said he spent $ 19,874 on security this quarter after serving on Trump’s indictment had voted. “You have to protect people. That is the bottom line.”

Much of the security spending surfaced within days or weeks of the January 6 riot in campaign reports in which rioters stormed an ill-equipped capitol and forced hundreds of members and staff to fear their safety.

Moving quickly to protect members and staff, Capitol officials supported the hill complex with barbed wire fences, metal detectors outside the chamber of the house, and tens of thousands of National Guard troops scattered throughout the property.

These threats were not confined to the Capitol, however: both senior and junior lawmakers were persecuted in airports or harassed outside their homes or district offices. Almost daily threats to harm members or their families were voted into many offices, and residues were found at Capitol Police headquarters.

Legislators were protected by the Capitol Police when traveling from airports in the DC area, but many said it wasn’t enough to make them feel safe and they worried about their families while they were away.

Each convention bureau received an additional $ 65,000 in funding this year for security related expenses. In the long run, however, the problem is more difficult than simply assigning security personnel to each member: while it is the standard protocol for high-level administrative officials, it would be far more difficult to provide all 535 members of Congress with security around the clock.

A suggestion in a retired Army Independent Review of the Security of the Capitol Lieutenant General Russell Honoré was a membership allowance fund to be used to protect household security systems. Honoré also recommended a “threat-based” program to assign protection details to lawmakers outside of leadership.

The leaders of Congress are providing personal security to lawmakers facing the most acute threats – including the nine House Democrats who prosecuted Trump in his second impeachment earlier this year.

In addition to a protective detail in the Capitol, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) – one of the Democrats’ impeachment executives – spent well over $ 40,000 on security this quarter. In the previous few months, he had spent less than $ 100 a month.

“The speaker is working to find ways to ensure that any member who has significant threats can be protected,” said Swalwell, adding to the ongoing discussions about using Congressional funds to protect members from “hundreds of threats” Knowledge.

“The last place I want to take is the voters,” said Swalwell. “Drawing from campaigns isn’t ideal either. They’re almost an incentive for people to threaten the most vulnerable on both sides. That’s my fear.”

Details of some of the safety issues from these lawmakers were first reported by Punchbowl News on Friday.

It is also a sensitive political issue. Politically vulnerable lawmakers from both parties fear that the use of official security devices in attack displays at home could be tampered with, with state-of-the-art camera systems seen more as a home improvement project than a necessity for taxpayers.

“I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, should taxpayers have to pay for what people might understand as improvements to our homes? I think I would love to see it on [official] Side, but there has to be some kind of declaration of need, ”said MEP Susan Wild (D-Pa.), Who had her own home security system before this year.

In recent years, candidates have increasingly asked the FEC for clarity as to whether they can actually use their fundraiser for security purposes on the hill or near their homes.

This January, all four weapons in the congressional campaign petitioned the FEC to clarify their rules on this issue. By the end of March, the federal electoral authority replied to one of these inquiries – which came from the election campaign staff of the GOP House and the Senate – to formally declare that the legislature can employ bodyguards with campaign money.

The FEC is also exploring other ways members can spend campaign money on safety for themselves and their families.

Ryan, who paid to have a police officer park in front of his family’s home in Ohio earlier this year, said he wasn’t sure how long the demand for more security would last but realized it was needed now .

“I mean, you have a metal detector right there and we’re here,” Ryan said, pointing to the chamber of the house.

“We protect generals. We protect other people in government, “he added.” Unfortunately we are on the road so much that we need it. “

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