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Increasing threats of violence directed at members of Congress, culminating in a gunman’s attack that wounded House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and three others, led to a request to allow use of campaign funds by all House members for home security systems.
U.S. House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving, who made the request to the Federal Election Commission in a letter, said that in addition to the Scalise attack, U.S. Capitol Police have investigated about 950 threatening communications aimed at lawmakers this year. The number already has surpassed the estimated 902 threatening communications investigated in all of 2016 by the Capitol Police, he said.
Campaign finance law generally prohibits the use of campaign money for personal expenses, including home improvements. However, Irving’s June 21 letter noted that the FEC has in the past approved three specific requests by individual lawmakers to use campaign money for home security systems, due to specific threats of violence against the lawmaker or a family member.
Irving’s original letter requested guidance from the FEC within seven days. He later amended the request to allow the FEC to consider it as an advisory opinion request (AO 2017-07) at the FEC’s next public meeting set for July 13.
Scalise and others were attacked June 14 in Alexandria, Va., during practice for an annual congressional baseball game. It was the first shooting of a member of Congress since now-former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was wounded in a 2011 attack.
The FEC’s most recent advisory opinion allowing use of campaign money for a security system came in response to a request from the campaign of Giffords, which asked to pay for an upgraded home security system. The ruling in AO 2011-17 came after she was shot. The FEC noted at the time that the Capitol Police made specific recommendations to increase security at the home where Giffords was staying.
In more recent years, threats to members of Congress have continued to rise, according to Irving’s letter to the FEC. As sergeant at arms, Irving said he is the chief law enforcement officer for the House and is in charge of the Capitol Police. His letter cited the internet as a major factor in increased threats to lawmakers.
“Over the course of the last five years, Members have had their home addresses and likenesses published in documents and on internet postings, both on the traditional web and dark web,” Irving said. “Members receive threatening communications on a daily basis via the internet, telephone and mail in Washington, D.C., at their Congressional district offices, and at their residences.”
Irving said the increased use of social media has created a new avenue for threatening communications. Anonymity on social media makes it particularly challenging for the Capitol Police to deal with these threats, he said.
In a separate development, the FEC released documents June 30 in several newly resolved enforcement matters, including one in Matter Under Review (MUR) 7227 resulting in a $16,000 FEC fine against the union political action committee of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners. The case resulted from self-reported campaign finance violations by the PAC, according to the FEC. The violations included knowingly accepting excessive contributions by union members to the PAC and failing to properly report the contributions in FEC disclosure reports.
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