State Candidates and the Use of Campaign Funds for Childcare Expenses


*Updated as of August 2019. Please check our permanent page on this topic for the most up-to-date information. 

In May 2018, the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) ruled that Liuba Grechen Shirley, a congressional candidate from New York, could use campaign funds to cover her campaign-related childcare expenses. The FEC issued a similar ruling in 2019 about congressional candidate MJ Hegar (which builds on the previous ruling although the circumstances were slightly different, thus requiring separate rulings). The Shirley ruling spurred several candidates to seek clarity on the rules regarding campaign funds and childcare expenses at the state level. Both legislative and administrative channels have been employed to expand access to the use of campaign funding for relevant childcare expenses.

Legislative
Most states’ laws are silent on the issue of allowing campaign funds for campaign-related childcare expenses. Of the 13 states which currently allow or have allowed campaign funds for childcare, only four states have enshrined the practice into law. A 2018 Minnesota statute specifically lists campaign-related childcare as an allowable expense for campaign funds. Utah passed a bill in March 2019 allowing campaign funds to be used for campaign-related childcare expenses, followed by Colorado in May 2019 and New York in June 2019. California, New Jersey, and New Hampshire have bills allowing the practice pending in their legislature.

Two states specifically prohibit the practice, and in a third an attempt to allow it was rejected by the legislature. In Massachusetts, current state law bars candidates from using campaign funds for personal expenses, and a bill allowing campaign funds for childcare stalled in the legislature in 2018. In West Virginia, state law prohibits using campaign funds for childcare expenses. In Tennessee, a proposed bill allowing the practice was killed by the Tennessee House Elections and Campaign Finance Subcommittee in March 2019.

Administrative
In most cases, the decision to allow this practice is decided on a case by case basis by the relevant elections or ethics authority in the state. In 7 states, elections/ethics commissions have issued recent advisory opinions in favor of allowing candidates to use campaign funds for campaign-related childcare (Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Texas, and Wisconsin).

Two additional states’ commissions allow the practice to some degree. The Connecticut State Elections Commission issued a ruling in April 2019 stating that privately used funds can be used for campaign-related childcare expenses; public financing cannot be. Since most candidates use public funds for their campaigns, this effectively limits the use of campaign funds for childcare to a small pool of candidates. The California Fair Political Practices Commission allows candidates to use campaign funds for childcare at a cap of $200 per campaign event. Pending legislation would remove the cap and codify the allowance of campaign funds for childcare into law.

In Iowa, on the other hand, a request from a candidate in July 2018 to use campaign funds for childcare was rejected by the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board. The board noted that the policy decision was best left to the legislature to decide and proposed a bill to allow the practice. As of July 2019, the bill has no sponsors in the legislature.

Most advisory opinions issued by commissions note that state law does not specifically address the issue, and some opinions encourage the legislature to take the matter on and formally enshrine the practice into law, as did Iowa’s ethics board. While advisory opinions set precedents and provide guidance for future candidates, because the matter isn’t settled by law, it often means that individual candidates would have to be approved on a case by case basis. Ultimately, legislation is the most effective guarantee of ensuring that the campaign funds can be used for campaign-related childcare.

To view the full list by state, visit: TABLE: Use of Campaign Funds for Childcare Expenses, By State 

 

As associate director of the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), Jean Sinzdak is responsible for developing strategic initiatives and projects, as well as general administrative oversight. An experienced program director with a strong background in women’s leadership development and civic engagement initiatives, she directs CAWP's Program for Women Public Officials, which aims to increase the impact of women in politics and make political women's leadership more effective through national, regional, and local events and programs for women officeholders, candidates, and campaign operatives. She is currently expanding the national network of Ready to Run® of campaign trainings for women, a bipartisan effort to recruit and train women to run for all levels of office. Sinzdak also oversees CAWP's New Jersey initiatives, including Ready to Run® New Jersey and the Bipartisan Coalition for Women's Appointments. She was a leader in the development of the Diversity Initiative of Ready to Run® New Jersey, designed to attract more women of color to the political process. She is the project director of Teach a Girl to Lead™, a national education and awareness campaign to re-envision what public leaders look like, inspire girls and young women to follow in their footsteps, and make women's political leadership visible to America's youth. Prior to joining CAWP, she served as director of outreach and communications at the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) in Washington, DC. Earlier, she worked at the Council for Urban Economic Development, also in Washington, DC. Sinzdak received a Master of Social Work, specializing in social and economic development, from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and a B.A. in English from the University of Scranton.