Childcare, Women Candidates, and Political Equality

Today we filed a comment to the Federal Election Commission in support of a request for an advisory opinion by Liuba Grechen Shirley, a congressional candidate who needs childcare in order to be able to campaign for office. Our comment, which we submitted together with Demos and Professor Zephyr Teachout, supports Ms. Shirley’s request to use campaign funds to pay for childcare expenses for her two young children while she engages in campaign activity.

As reported in Elle, before Ms. Shirley decided to run for office, she was the sole caregiver of her two children under age five for most of each weekday. If she had not decided to run for office, she would have continued in that role. By the same token, her ability to run for office is complicated by whether she can afford childcare while engaging in campaign activities. The question for the Federal Election Commission is whether paying for childcare is a legitimate campaign expense, where necessary to run for office, or whether it is a “personal” expense that cannot be paid out of campaign funds.

The standard under FEC regulations is whether the expense “would exist irrespective of the candidate’s campaign.” But there are larger considerations at stake. The struggle for political equality for women did not end in 1920 with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. Women face structural barriers in running for elective office. Many of these barriers are particularly acute for women of color. These barriers include difficulty reconciling work and family obligations with a political career, including child care while running for office.

Much progress has been made over the past century towards achieving political and workplace equality for women. Yet much still remains to be done. Allowing candidates like Ms. Shirley to use campaign funds for child care where necessary for the candidate to run for office is a small step that the Commission should be proud to take.

Download our comment letter to the Federal Election Commission.

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