A proposed amendment to the Federal Election Commission’s regulations seeks to address the escalating trend of political violence in the United States. The proposed rule would grant federal candidates and officeholders the ability to utilize campaign funds for security expenditures that address “ongoing dangers or threats.” CREW supports the proposal, but remains concerned about potential misuses of funds and encourages changes to strengthen the guidelines. 

Following the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the US Capitol, and amid reports that political violence in the US is at its worst in 50 years, violence now poses an existential threat to our democracy. According to polls conducted by the Brennan Center, 43% of state legislators stated that they have experienced threats or attacks, and 89% reported these experiences when lesser degrees of abuse like stalking and harassment were included. The Brennan Center has also found that threats of political violence are more heavily targeted at minority candidates and officeholders, creating additional barriers to political participation for members of marginalized communities. 

Given this context, CREW supports the FEC’s efforts to expand the use of campaign funds to cover security expenditures as an important step to protect federal candidates and officeholders and safeguard our democracy.  However, CREW respectfully requests the FEC amend the proposal to include more stringent guidelines.  In previous instances, officeholders have abused their security spending by spending exorbitant amounts, or hiring family members that did not meet local law’s criteria for providing security services.

In order to prevent federal candidates or officeholders, or their families, from being unduly enriched by campaign funds, or further emboldening candidates or officeholders to purchase unreasonable security measures, it is necessary for the FEC to include additional restrictions.  CREW urges the FEC to establish strict guidelines on who and what constitutes legitimate security personnel and measures, to set a reasonable limit on campaign funds used for preventative security before a threat is received and to detail an additional fund authorization process requiring input from law enforcement on the scope and scale of security measures taken in response to threats if and when they are received. 

Violence and threats should not be a deterrent for candidates running for office, and as political violence expert Dr. Rachel Kleinfeld has advocated, strong institutional responses to violence can disempower people from committing violent acts. Allowing campaign expenditures for legitimate security needs, while establishing clear guidelines to prevent abuse and undue enrichment, is an important step towards rooting out political violence.

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