At its year-end meeting, the Federal Election Commission on Thursday approved the use of campaign funds for personal cybersecurity-related expenses for members of Congress.
The decision is the latest move by the FEC to broaden the definition of campaign-related expenses. Earlier this year, commissioners approved the use of campaign funds for childcare expenses, and previously in 2017, the FEC had approved using campaign funds for personal security systems for the homes of members if they were under threat.
Thursday’s advisory opinion, which came at the request of Sen. Ron Wyden, also signals a growing awareness of the risks federal officeholders and candidates face from hackers.
Commissioners emphasized the campaign funds that can be used are “limited to your own personal devices and accounts and not available for devices and accounts of family members, staff or other persons.”
While Wyden didn’t tell the FEC his accounts were under direct threat of cyber attack, he did note “the dangers elected officials face in the cyber realm, including attacks by sophisticated state-sponsored hackers and intelligence agencies against personal devices and accounts.”
The Washington Post also pointed out the Oregon Democrat in September circulated a letter to Senate leaders stating the Russian hackers who breached the DNC during the 2016 cycle were “also targeting the personal email accounts of senators and Senate staff.” He asked their support for his legislation giving the Senate Sergeant at Arms the authority to provide cybersecurity assistance to senators and their staff for securing their personal accounts and devices.
In fact, recent reports indicate political staffers remain a prime target for hackers. Four senior NRCC staffers had their emails compromised by a foreign hacker during the midterms, according to a report. That revelation has consultants calling for industry-wide cybersecurity protocols.
“Digital consultants don’t really want to spend a lot of time talking about how insecure they are,” Brian Franklin, a Democratic digital consultant with a cybersecurity practice recently told C&E. “If you can solve the cultural problem, then the technical solutions will be able to be implemented very well.
In their decision, commissioners likened the online threats faced by officeholders to threats to their physical safety, and again drew the line around the personal nature of the threat.
In other business, the commissioners elected Ellen Weintraub as chair and Matthew Petersen as vice chair. Weintraub noted that the commission had saved $600,000 by shifting Senate filings online and said that money should go toward enhancing enforcement.