AO 2022-17: Senator may use campaign funds for home cybersecurity protection
A Senator’s principal campaign committee may use campaign funds to pay the costs of reasonable cybersecurity measures to protect the Senator’s home network without such payments constituting impermissible conversion of campaign funds to personal use.
Warren Democrats, Inc. (the Committee) is the principal campaign committee of Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who is running for re-election in 2024. The Committee states that, as an elected official, Senator Warren faces threats greater than those faced by the general public, including heightened vulnerability to cyberattacks. The Committee proposes using campaign funds to pay for reasonable security measures to protect the Senator’s home network, which connects to her electronic devices, and to devices of other members of the household and visitors.
The Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act) and Commission regulations permit a federal officeholder to use campaign funds for “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. Conversion to personal use occurs when a contribution or amount is used to fulfill any commitment, obligation or expense that would exist irrespective of the officeholder’s duties. For expenses that the Act and Commission regulations do not list as per se personal use, the Commission determines on a case-by-case basis whether such expenses would constitute personal use. The Commission has long recognized that if a candidate or officeholder can reasonably show the expense resulted from campaign or officeholder duties, the Commission will not consider it personal use.
In several previous advisory opinions, the Commission has authorized the use of campaign funds for various residential home security upgrades to protect against threats to officeholders on the grounds that the need for such security expenses would not exist if not for the officeholder’s activities or duties. The facts presented in those opinions suggested the threats were motivated by the requestors’ role as federal officeholders, candidates, or both. The Commission found the expenses for the security upgrades would not have existed irrespective of the individuals’ duties as federal officeholder or candidates and, therefore, the use of campaign funds to pay such expenses was permissible.
In Advisory Opinion 2018-15, the Commission concluded that certain expenses incurred in protecting Senator Ron Wyden’s personal electronic devices and accounts from cybersecurity threats constituted a permissible use of campaign funds. Senator Warren is currently subject to heightened cybersecurity threats, including threats against her personal electronic devices and accounts, due to her role as a federal officeholder.
The residential security installations or enhancements as authorized in the Commission’s previous advisory opinions provide incidental security protection to other members of the household and visitors, and yet the Commission deemed these to be necessary expenses incurred in connection with officeholder duties. Thus, the Commission determined that as long as the benefits to others receiving the protection of the home network cybersecurity measures are incidental, the Committee’s proposal will not result in the impermissible personal use of campaign funds. Because these would be normal and ordinary expenses incurred in connection with the Senator’s duties as a federal officeholder, the Commission concluded the Committee may use campaign funds to pay for the costs of reasonable cybersecurity improvements to the Senator’s home network.
Date Issued: September 15, 2022; Length: 6 pages
52 U.S.C. 30114(b)
Prohibited use of campaign funds
11 CFR § 113.1(g)
Definition of personal use
11 CFR § 113.2
Permissible non-campaign use of funds