Update as of February 2023
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). Relatedly, in March 2019, US Representative Katie Porter introduced the "Help America Run Act" to codify this practice into law for federal candidates. It passed the US House and was sent to the Senate but was not acted upon before the 116th Congress adjourned. In March 2021, Representative Porter introduced H.R.1515 to amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to provide for the treatment of payments for child care and other personal use services as an authorized campaign expenditure, although it was not acted on before the 117th Congress adjourned.
The Shirley ruling by the FEC in 2018 spurred several state-level candidates to seek clarity on the rules regarding campaign funds and childcare expenses in their states. Both legislative and administrative channels have been employed to expand access to the use of campaign funding for relevant childcare expenses. After her campaign, Grechen Shirley launched the Vote Mama Foundation, which has been working with candidates across the country to petition their state and local election commissions, and with legislators to introduce and pass legislation to approve the use of campaign funds for childcare for state and local candidates. They are working to pass campaign funds for childcare in all 50 states and are also tracking the use of campaign funds for childcare to determine how its use ultimately contributes to better representation in office for women and families. Learn more here.
In 2018, in response to multiple requests about this issue from journalists and legislators, CAWP began tracking which states had passed legislation or allowed the practice administratively. The details below are as of February 2023. CAWP no longer tracks this issue state by state because Vote Mama Foundation is doing this regularly. For the most current information and a list of states and their legislation/administrative rulings, please visit the Vote Mama Foundation’s comprehensive tracking page. For an explanation of how states allow or have allowed the practice of using campaign funds for childcare, as well as an overview of where things stand as of early 2023, read below.
Many states’ laws have been silent on the issue of allowing campaign funds for campaign-related childcare expenses. Of the 26 states which currently allow or have allowed campaign funds for childcare as of February 2023, only 16 states have enshrined the practice into law. A 2018 Minnesota statute specifically lists campaign-related childcare as an allowable expense for campaign funds. California, Colorado, New Hampshire, New York, and Utah passed bills in 2019 allowing campaign funds to be used for campaign-related childcare expenses. New Jersey passed a bill in 2020, followed in 2021 by Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Montana, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia. Washington passed a bill in 2022. As of October 2022, at least twelve other states have bills allowing the practice pending in their legislatures (in addition, legislation was introduced in Kansas in 2022 but was not acted upon before the legislative session adjourned.)
In some 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 14 states, elections/ethics commissions have issued advisory opinions or guidance in favor of allowing candidates to use campaign funds for campaign-related childcare (Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin allow it outright; a 1994 advisory opinion from the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission appears to allow for some childcare expenses to be covered by campaign funds, but the language in the NADC guidelines limits it to situations in which both the candidate and his/her spouse are at a campaign event together.) Legislation was subsequently passed in Arkansas, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Washington.
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. 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.
Use of Campaign Funds for Childcare Expenses, by State
CAWP no longer tracks this issue state by state as this work is being done by Vote Mama Foundation. Please visit their comprehensive tracker here.