Senator Asks FEC to Let Campaign Funds Be Used for Hacking Protection

(Bloomberg) -- Citing Russian hacking in the 2016 election and ongoing cyber threats, Senator Ron Wyden asked the Federal Election Commission if campaign funds could be used to protect personal devices and online accounts of members of Congress.

Hackers tied to the Russian government stole emails and other documents from the servers of the Democratic National Committee, and gained access to the personal email account of John Podesta, who was then chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, through a phishing scheme.

Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, fears similar efforts could target next month’s midterm elections, and cited experts who say that several senators and their staffs have been the subject of persistent cyberattacks starting in June 2017.

In his request, Wyden included an April 2017 letter from Michael Rogers, then director of the National Security Agency, who said the personal devices and accounts of government officials “remain prime targets for exploitation.” Wyden also noted that the Senate Sergeant at Arms, the highest-ranking law enforcement officer in the chamber, lacks the authority to protect them. Public funds cannot be used for personal devices.

Costly Defense

Wyden wrote that an effective defense against cyber threats is prohibitively expensive, and that members of Congress shouldn’t have to bear the costs to protect themselves. He listed secure mobile phones and computers, secure home routers and networking equipment, anti-virus software, and cyber security consultants as some of the products and services members would have to pay for.

Under federal election laws, campaign money cannot be converted to personal use, though there have been exceptions. In July 2017, in response to a similar request from the House Sergeant at Arms that cited a rising number of threats against members, the FEC ruled that campaign funds could pay for installing or upgrading security systems at lawmakers’ personal residences.

The FEC posted the request Friday, opening a public comment period. It hasn’t scheduled a public hearing on the matter. All four sitting commissioners will have to approve the request; there are currently two vacancies on the six-member panel, which can include no more than three members from a single political party.

“Russia’s attack on our democracy during the 2016 election make it clear that U.S. elected officials are prime targets for foreign intelligence services,” Wyden said in an emailed statement on Friday afternoon. “The record shows foreign hackers will not limit their efforts to official government accounts and devices.”

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