Stacey Abrams’ voting rights group spent $1.4 million on security in 2021

  • Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight PAC spent “extraordinary” money on security, experts say.
  • The spending comes as lawmakers and candidates increasingly turn to campaign funds for protection.
  • Experts say the rise in partisan violence has made security a new cost of political activity.

A political action committee linked to Democrat Stacey Abrams spent nearly $1.4 million on private security last year, according to federal revelations – an extraordinary sum that watchdogs say reflects the threat increasing partisan violence in the United States.

Abrams, a prominent liberal currently running for governor of Georgia, started the advocacy group Fair Fight to fight voter suppression after her narrow 2018 loss to Governor Brian Kemp. After initially focusing on Georgia, the group has expanded in recent years to work with Democrats in several swing states to prevent voter suppression.

In 2021, the group directed most of its security spending to a single company: Atlanta-based Executive Protection Agencies.

Security firm CEO Tim Howard promoted his work with Abrams and Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock on social media, posting photos of him with the of them Democrats and other personalities, including the tennis star Serena Williamsactress Halle Berryand president Joe Biden.

On its website, Executive Protection Agencies advertise their bodyguards as “current or former elite law enforcement officers.” The company says celebrities, models and other high-profile figures are “at risk” and need security expertise.

“These are the facts of life, but you don’t have to let them determine your life. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and it comes in the form of professional bodyguards for hire,” says the company. “You don’t want overpriced bouncers with an attitude; you want experts whose skills and training are focused like a laser beam on one goal: your total well-being.”

Fair Fight, which ended 2021 with nearly $19.3 million in cash, paid Howard’s company alone more than $1.2 million in 2021, according to a review of disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission. . Several other private contractors received the rest of the payments from Fair Fight’s security services.

Federal records do not reveal what types of security services Fair Fight purchased.

“It’s a huge amount of money spent on security,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for the nonprofit watchdog group Public Citizen. “It’s unfortunate. I never thought I would see the day when candidates for public office would have to routinely fear for their lives and safety, but here we are. This is the whole new American political landscape.”

Agencies Fair Fight and Executive Protection did not respond to Insider’s requests for comment.

Other clients of the executive protection agencies include Representative Nikema Williams of Georgia and Warnock, a Democrat who defeated former Sen. Kelly Loeffler in a special election held between 2020 and early 2021, according to the disclosures.

Fair Fight security payments stand out because only a handful of federal political committees or candidates, or high-profile state candidates, spend more than four figures a year on private security payments, an Insider analysis of federal campaign finance records. Most do not hire private security at all.

Nonetheless, Fair Fight spending coincided with members of Congress and political candidates increasingly turning to campaign funds to pay for bodyguards and other security measures.

Such security spending became easier in March 2021, when the FEC ruled that members of Congress could spend campaign funds on “bona fide, legitimate, and professional personal security personnel.”

But some lawmakers had charged protection-related expenses to their campaigns even before the agency’s decision, especially in the weeks after supporters of then-President Donald Trump attacked the US Capitol on January 6. 2021.

“It’s not a small bump, it’s a huge flurry of new security spending. And it all started with Trump,” Holman said. “Trump supporters and Trump himself have encouraged violence against those who disagree with Trump.”

Attack of January 6 Evacuation of the Capitol

In gas masks, Representatives Lucille Roybal-Allard, a Democrat from California, and Annie Kuster, a Democrat from New Hampshire, center, hide as rioters attempt to enter the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Photo by Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

For many lawmakers, the Jan. 6 attack served as a wake-up call to the threat of violence in American politics. As pro-Trump mobs ransacked the Capitol, then-Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were led to safety while other elected officials huddled behind gates guarded by police .

After the Capitol siege, Mother Jones reported that Republicans who criticized Trump were among the biggest spenders on security. Rep. Liz Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming who voted for Trump’s second impeachment, hired a security consulting firm and hired three Secret Service agents who had previously protected her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Cheney had not previously used campaign funds for safety. Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican from Utah who voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment, has also hired a security firm.

In the first nine months of 2021, Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, spent nearly $30,000 on security, according to federal records. One of the firms she retained, Aegis Logistics LLC, specializes in “executive protection” and consulting, according to its website.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spent $73,000 in the first 9 months of 2021 on security services, according to the New York Democrat’s disclosures with the FEC. Among its selected companies were Three Bridges NY, which offers “executive protection”, and Texas-based 24/7 Security & Investigation, which provided security service in Houston, according to the disclosures.

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas spent nearly $250,000 on the services of Atlas Glinn, a security firm that bills itself as skilled in “dignitary protection, training, consulting and investigations.” The homepage of Atlas Glinn’s website features a smiling Cruz with his arm around the company’s founder and CEO, Matthew Brockmann.

Warnock spent nearly $500,000 in 2021 on executive protection agencies.

A row of police in riot gear.

United States Capitol Police at a ‘Justice for January 6’ rally.

Alan Chin for Insider

Beyond the January 6 attacks, prominent politicians have been plotted or seriously injured in attacks.

A gunman shot Representative Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, in the head at a constituent event in 2011, nearly killing her. In 2017, a gunman shot Republican House Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana while practicing for the annual Congressional baseball game in Alexandria, Virginia. A neighbor attacked Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, breaking several ribs and slicing his face.

In 2020, 14 men were arrested and charged in connection with an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Of the six people arrested on federal kidnapping charges, one has pleaded guilty and is expected to testify against the others in a trial later this year.

Death threats, meanwhile, have become commonplace in politics. Then-Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman said in March that threats against federal lawmakers nearly doubled in the first two months of 2021 compared to the first two months of 2020.

And the threats are not just aimed at elected officials, but also at unelected officials.

Unlike an American president, members of Congress do not receive screenings from the Secret Service. The United States Capitol Police, meanwhile, generally do not travel with or directly protect legislators when they are away from the Capitol complex, with the exception of large-scale events such as congressional conventions. presidential appointment.

“There is a reasonable fear that I think any campaign could have of being targeted. We have not only seen the January 6 attacks, but an increasing number of election officials under threat,” said Lee Drutman, senior researcher at New America who studied political violence. “There is a growing movement of far-right activists who are fundamentally spoiling the Civil War.”


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