By Debbie Siegelbaum - 04/26/11 09:52 PM EDT
Lawmakers have looked to bolster security at their homes and state offices in the months following the January shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).
“There has been an increase in requests to have [security] assessments done,” Senate Sergeant at Arms Terry Gainer told The Hill.
Gainer attributes at least part of the uptick in requests following the Giffords’s shooting to new members of Congress who have a different view on security.
Security assessments are voluntary rather than mandatory for members. But Gainer considers skipping an assessment, particularly of a lawmaker’s state office, irresponsible.
“I have members who don’t want it, who say, ‘I’m fine, leave me alone,’ ” he said. “And I’m trying to say to them, ‘Not a good posture.’ ”
One positive step in convincing lawmakers to take added precautions is a recent ruling by the Federal Election Commission approving the use of campaign funds to increase security at the home of Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.).
The FEC approved up to $5,000 to be used to install a security system — including closed-circuit television and video surveillance — at the congressman’s home following a recommendation from Capitol Police.
According to the April 1 FEC advisory opinion, Terry’s additional security “expenses would not exist irrespective of the Congressman's campaign or duties as a Federal officeholder and the payment of these expenses would not constitute personal use of campaign funds.”
This is an avenue Gainer’s office encourages other lawmakers to pursue.
“It’s encouraging. I’ve never approached it before about whether they could use campaign funds; it wasn’t even on my radar,” he said. “And when I saw it, I said, ‘Oh, good news, maybe they’ll be able to do that.’ ”
Currently the Senate sergeant at arms bears the cost of security assessments, as well as any recommended improvements to member offices. But lawmakers are on their own when it comes to installing security improvements in their homes.
“On an individual member basis, if they feel that there’s a [security] need, it’s nice to know that there’s a way to pay for it,” he added.
It’s just another precaution that Gainer’s office advocates to increase lawmaker safety, in addition to avoiding personalized license plates and determining when and how members pick up their mail.
“We encourage members to exercise the cautions that they can,” he said. “I don’t see the members running scared, but I think when you’re in a high public profile position — whether you’re an elected person or entertainment or anything that highlights you — unfortunately we have people who focus on people like that.”