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  • FEC Record: Advisory opinions

AO 2018-15: Senator may use campaign funds to protect personal electronic devices from cybersecurity threat

January 29, 2019

Senator Ron Wyden may use campaign funds to protect his personal electronic devices and accounts from cybersecurity threats that he faces in his role as an elected official.

Background

Several current and former national security officials and cybersecurity experts have noted that personal electronic devices and accounts of senior U. S. government officials are prime targets for cyberattacks since they may contain highly sensitive personal information but are not secured by government cybersecurity professionals. Senator Wyden proposes to use campaign funds for several types of expenses he may incur to protect his personal devices and accounts from cyberattacks or to recover from cyberattacks. These expenses may include hardware, software and services, including consulting services and emergency assistance.

Analysis

The Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act) and Commission regulations permit an officeholder to use campaign funds for a variety of enumerated purposes, including “ordinary and necessary expenses incurred in connection with duties of the individual as a holder of Federal office,” and for “any other lawful purpose” that does not constitute conversion of campaign funds to “personal use.”

The Act and Commission regulations provide a non-exhaustive list of items that constitute a prohibited personal use per se. For items not on the list, the Commission determines on a case-by-case basis whether such expenses constitute personal use. The Commission has long recognized that if a candidate or federal officeholder “can reasonably show that the expenses at issue resulted from campaign or officeholder activities, the Commission will not consider the use to be personal use.”

While the Commission has not previously considered whether payments for cybersecurity measures would constitute personal use, the Commission has previously concluded that payments for physical protection of a federal officeholder or candidate’s residence are not personal use when such protection is needed due to threats driven by the individual’s role as an officeholder and/or candidate.

Senator Wyden provided information regarding the heightened threat of cyberattacks he faces by virtue of his role as a federal officeholder. Accordingly, the Commission concluded that reasonable expenses incurred in protecting his personal electronic devices and accounts from, and responding to, cybersecurity threats constitute a permissible use of campaign funds.

The Commission emphasized that this conclusion is based on the information provided about the current heightened threat environment of cyberattacks faced by Senators and that the conclusion may no longer apply if the threat environment diminishes. The Commission also emphasized that the use of campaign funds for these expenses is limited to the Senator’s own personal devices and accounts and is not available for the devices and accounts of family members, staff or other persons.

Date issued: December 13, 2018; Length: 5 pages

Citations

Regulations:

11 CFR Part 113
Permitted and prohibited uses of campaign accounts

Resources

  • Author 
    • Paul Stoetzer
    • Communications Specialist