House

Lawmakers spend more on personal security in wake of insurrection

Two tourists and a dog observe House members arrive and leave the first vote of the week on Monday, July 19, 2021.
Greg Nash

In the months after she voted to impeach former President Trump for his role in inspiring the Jan. 6 insurrection against Congress, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) went to Costco to buy a security system. 

Rep. Richard Hudson (N.C.), one of the majority of Republicans who voted against impeaching Trump, also purchased a security system for his home.  

Herrera Beutler and Hudson did not respond to requests for comment. But they were hardly alone: A review of campaign finance reports made with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) last week shows an unprecedented rise in spending on security for members of Congress.  

Incumbent senators and representatives spent more than half a million dollars on security over just the last three months, a surge in personal protection that recalled the precautions members took after the Sept. 11 attacks, the shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that wounded then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) and killed six in 2011 and the attack on a group of congressional Republicans that seriously injured House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) in 2017. 

The spending includes only campaign money, not taxpayer dollars, and likely covers only a tiny fraction of the overall cost of ensuring the safety of members of Congress. 

It comes at a time when the threat to member safety appears higher than ever: The U.S. Capitol Police reported in May that threats against members of Congress had more than doubled from the previous year. The department said its analysts and agents assigned to a threat assessment section had investigated about 9,000 potential threats in 2020.

“We’re seeing more and more elected officials use campaign funds to pay for security each quarter. This isn’t particularly surprising, as we’re only six months separated from a violent mob attacking the Capitol,” said Jenna Grande, a spokesperson for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a campaign finance watchdog. “After the last year, political rhetoric has become much more violent and people are feeling empowered to act in an aggressive manner toward their elected officials.” 

No one has spent more than Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), first elected in January in one of a pair of Senate runoff elections that handed control of the chamber to Democrats.  

Warnock’s campaign reported spending nearly $200,000 at a small Atlanta security firm over the last three months, an amount that accounted for nearly a tenth of his overall spending last quarter. 

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), another first-term lawmaker, reported spending almost $70,000 on security services, more than any other member in the House of Representatives.  

Just weeks into her time in Congress, Bush moved offices to get away from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) after the two had an angry hallway confrontation in January. Bush alleged that Greene and her staff “berated” her, without wearing masks at a time when mask use was still required in the Capitol. 

Greene said she was the one who had been ambushed in the halls. 

Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) has spent $10,000 of his own campaign cash on personal security, both through a South Carolina-based security firm and on seven individuals listed as members of a security detail. 

Cawthorn’s spokesman declined to comment, though a source familiar with his thinking said the first-term congressman has faced a significant number of threats, including death threats. The person said Cawthorn had consulted security professionals and hired some contractors to provide protection at certain events. 

Former members of Congress interviewed for this story said they recalled a few other instances of members paying for their own protection — after the terror attacks in 2001, and the ensuing anthrax attacks that targeted members of Congress, or after the shootings in Tucson and suburban Washington. 

But they said this time is different. 

“I’ve never seen a level of threat as intense, persistent and widespread as this one,” said Steve Israel, a former New York congressman and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). 

The security spending has come from all corners of Congress. Veteran members like Reps. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), who spent $38,000 last quarter on security services; Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who spent $12,000; and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who spent $8,000, have joined several first- and second-term members, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) and Mike Levin (D-Calif.), who all spent $12,000 from their campaign accounts in the last quarter. 

Most of the members of Congress contacted for this story did not respond to requests for comments. Others said they maintained policies against discussing security threats or precautions. A spokesman for Levin said his office maintained such a policy and declined to comment. 

But their campaign finance filings show the spending they have undertaken, both in hiring professional guards and in safeguarding their campaign offices or homes with new security systems. 

Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) and Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-N.M.) each spent about $2,300 for new security systems. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) spent $2,400 between two different security companies. Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) spent $23,456 on residential security expenses in April, about one-fifth of the total expenses his campaign reported for the last quarter. 

The spending comes as members of Congress increasingly voice fear for their lives after the attack on the Capitol in the waning days of the Trump administration.  

More than 30 representatives, led by Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in the weeks after the attack asking for more money in their annual budgets to pay for security personnel. 

A top lawyer for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) told members in January they could legally use campaign funds to install or upgrade security systems at their homes, under certain circumstances, guidance similar to what the DCCC told its members, according to CBS News. The NRCC also asked the FEC whether it was permissible to spend campaign money on private security services.

In January, U.S. Capitol Police officials said they would station more officers at Washington-area airports and at Union Station on busy travel days. The Capitol Police set up an online service so members can alert them of their travel plans. 

Earlier this month, acting Capitol Police Chef Yogananda Pittman told lawmakers the department had made a series of reforms meant to protect members. The department expanded its Dignitary Protection Division and launched a new recruitment efforts to fill out its officer ranks. It is in the process of opening field offices in Florida and California, and the department’s Civil Disturbance Unit has sent officers to trainings with the National Guard to bolster their riot response.

At the same time, a funding dispute is putting the Capitol Police in a cash crunch. Senate appropriators are working on legislation to allocate money to both the Capitol Police and the National Guard that deployed to protect the Capitol in the wake of the insurrection, but negotiations are stalling on a larger security bill. 

Just last week, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) warned that the Capitol Police would have to begin cutting officer salaries as early as next month if a new funding package isn’t passed. 

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Bonnie Watson Coleman David Schweikert Dean Phillips Devin Nunes Donald Trump Earl Blumenauer Gregory Meeks Jaime Herrera Beutler Jan. 6 Capitol attack Joe Neguse Josh Gottheimer Kevin McCarthy Marjorie Taylor Greene Mike Levin Nancy Pelosi Patrick Leahy Raphael Warnock Richard Hudson Steve Israel Steve Scalise Tim Burchett
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