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‘Sad reality’: California officials facing threats could spend campaign funds on security

Maggie Angst, Sacramento Bee

As someone whose family has received numerous threats and watched candidates that she admired face an onslaught of hate and intimidation, California Assemblywoman Mia Bonta felt an obligation to help better protect incumbent and aspiring elected officials.

The California legislature passed a bill Wednesday authored by Bonta, D-Alameda, that she hopes will make them safer. It will allow the use of campaign funds for home security systems or bodyguards for themselves, their families or staff.

Assembly Bill 37, which still needs Gov. Gavin Newsom’s approval, expands who is eligible to spend campaign funds on security and removes a $5,000 cap set three decades ago. It also allows candidates or elected officials to retain security after a campaign or term in office concludes if there is a continued threat verified by law enforcement. Candidates and elected officials would be required to disclose these expenses as campaign expenditures.

Bonta said she felt compelled to introduce the measure after what she saw as an alarming increase in political violence, including the home invasion and attempted kidnapping of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi was not home at the time but her husband, Paul Pelosi, was seriously injured in the attack. 

“I went through last election cycle supporting several women at the wrong end of hate,” Bonta said. “... I don’t think people should have to put themselves on the line, their families on the line, to hold public office.”

Bonta said she first experienced violent political speech when her husband, California Attorney General Rob Bonta, held her seat and was harassed after a vote. More recently, after opposing a bill strengthening penalties for child sex traffickers, she said the lives of her children were threatened. 

Less than six months ago, the California state Capitol was evacuated because of what the Highway Patrol called a “credible threat” from a nearby shooter.

Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, Bonta’s co-author on the bill, has faced homophobic and anti-Semitic messages, harassment and threats. Late last year, San Francisco police investigated multiple death threats against the state senator, including a bomb threat that listed his home address.

Although Wiener would not say whether he planned to make use of legislation if passed, he said that it was a good option for elected leaders to have.

“The sad reality is that elected officials across the country are increasingly facing threats of physical violence. We see it with members of Congress, as state legislatures and all the way down to school boards,” Wiener said in an interview. “I think this is a very common-sense stopgap measure to help elected officials protect ourselves.”