A legislative commission is recommending that political candidates be allowed to spend campaign funds on child-care expenses while they’re running for office, a move supporters say would make it easier for more parents to participate in politics.
In a report to the Legislature, the Special Commission on Family Care and Child Care Services concluded that child care is an appropriate campaign expenditure when it’s the “direct result of the candidate’s campaign activities.” Legislation filed this month in the House and Senate would allow that expense for the first time.
Candidates in 13 states already can spend political contributions on child-care costs, the report stated. Congressional candidates have done the same since 2018, when the Federal Election Commission advised a New York candidate she could use donations on child care while on the campaign trail.
A candidate for governor or state representative in Massachusetts should have that same opportunity, said commission cochairman State Senator Barry R. Finegold.
“We want more people to get the ability to run for office,” Finegold said.
Politics has long been dominated by men of means; a majority of members of Congress last year were millionaires. Good-government advocates call for removing barriers that block the average person from running for office, such as the often prohibitive cost of taking time away from work and family.
“Allowing candidates to use campaign funds to pay for child-care needs is a common sense and equitable solution to the barriers that working parents face while running for office,” said Ruth Bramson, head of the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women and a member of the group that issued the report late last year. “Now more than ever, as we work through COVID-19 related recovery towards a more resilient future, we need a wide-ranging pool of talent at the table and a diversity of perspective to identify workable solutions.”
State law does not specify whether candidates can tap their campaign war chests for child-care expenses, but the state Office of Campaign and Public Finance has advised against it, regarding it as a form of “personal use” of funds prohibited under campaign law.
Measures to allow the spending stalled in the past two legislative sessions. But after a 2019 hearing, the Joint Committee on Election Laws established a commission to study the issue and make recommendations to state campaign regulators.
The commission found that the Federal Election Commission and other states use a basic test to determine what qualifies as a campaign expense: A legitimate child-care expense would not exist “but for” the activities of a campaign. Baby-sitting costs incurred “irrespective of” the campaign wouldn’t qualify.
“Certainly the commission felt like this was an area that OCPF could regulate in the same way that they regulate a variety of campaign expenses,” said Representative Mike Connolly, a Somerville Democrat who has called for the change. “It creates this ‘but for’ test just to be clear that the expense is related to a campaign activity.”
The commission settled on a definition of “child care” that includes settings in homes, child-care centers, or with an individual baby-sitter but warns against paying candidates’ family members for care. Only relatives who run professional child-care services would qualify, and they could only accept their standard fee from the candidate.
Connolly, along with lead sponsors Representative Joan Meschino, a Hull Democrat, and Senator Patricia Jehlen, a Somerville Democrat, filed legislation this month that mirrors the commission’s recommendations. It calls on state campaign regulators to develop regulations as soon as July.
“If we want this to be an option for the next round of legislative and statewide races in 2022, then we would want to take action quickly this year,” Connolly said.
Finegold, the Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Election Laws, said he would like to see the measure wrapped into a broader package of election law changes.
“As a committee, I’m hopeful that we are going to do a comprehensive campaign finance bill,” he said.