Campaign Finance & Childcare Costs

The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 and Federal Elections Commission (FEC) regulations provide the nation’s campaign finance legal framework. While expansive, they also shape the proper use of campaign funds, which includes expenses directly related to a candidate’s campaign for federal office.

Although personal use of campaign funds is expressly prohibited, FEC regulations utilize the “irrespective test” to distinguish legitimate expenses from personal ones. Under this test, personal use occurs when campaign funds are expended “to fulfill a commitment, obligation or expense of any person that would exist irrespective of the candidate’s campaign or responsibilities as a federal officeholder.” That is, expenses that result from campaign or officeholder activity are exempt from the personal use ban.

For items not listed as personal use exemptions in the regulations – such as payments for childcare expenses – the FEC makes a case-by-case determination on whether an expense constitutes a legitimate use of campaign funds. The FEC first considered whether a candidate’s childcare expenses should be exempt from the personal use ban in a 1995 advisory opinion, and expanded its finding in a 2018 advisory opinion, concluding that campaign funds may be used to pay for a candidate’s childcare expenses if they are a direct result of campaign activity.

In Massachusetts, the Office of Campaign and Political Finance oversees campaign finance activity through the administration of Massachusetts General Law Chapter 55 and 55C and regulations issued by the Secretary of State.

MGL Ch. 55 §6 outlines restrictions on the use of campaign funds for statewide candidates, prohibiting expenditures for personal use. Under this section, personal use includes “the payment of fines, penalties, restitution or damages incurred for a violation of” state laws related to public officials’ ethical and financial disclosure requirements and does not include “expenses relating to the provision of constituent or legislative services or to the opening or maintaining of a legislative district office.” The state’s political expenditure regulations further define personal use prohibitions, barring use of campaign funds for any costs that do not “enhance the political future of the candidate.”

In sum, Massachusetts state law and regulation do not expressly permit the use of campaign funds to cover childcare expenses. In response, State Senator Pat Jehlen filed a bill in 2017 – S.386, An act supporting working parents who choose to run for public office – that would expand personal use exemptions to include “expenses relating to the provision of child care services for a candidate while the candidate is performing work or attending events directly related to the candidate’s campaign.” Although the Senate voted to include the policy in its Fiscal Year 2019 budget, the change did not make it into the final state budget. Senator Jehlen refiled the bill this session (S.408), which was heard by the Joint Committee on Election Laws in May and awaits further action.

On September 25, the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed H.4087, An Act relative to campaign finance, which included language that would establish a special legislative commission to examine “the feasibility of authorizing the use of campaign funds to pay for the provision of child care services by candidates for state, county or municipal elected office.” The Senate is scheduled to take up the bill (S.2391) on Thursday, November 7, where discussion of the matter is expected to emerge.

RESULTS OF INFORMAL SURVEY

This section written by Will Brownsberger

I sent emails to 2364 registered voters in my senate district asking the following question with the following options:

Should a political campaign be able to use donated funds to pay the candidate’s child care expenses?

  • No. Donated funds should be used for campaign purposes, not for personal expenses.
  • Yes. We need more young women to run for office and lack of child care is especially likely to be a barrier for them; however, donated funds should not be used for other personal expenses.
  • Yes. We need to lower economic barriers to candidates; I generally support candidates using donated funds to pay for personal necessities or to pay themselves a salary while campaigning.
  • Other

The response rate was 28% and the response rate did not differ between men and women. The responses broke down as follows:

MaleFemaleOther/NRTotal
No33.2%29.2%66.7%34.0%
Yes
childcare*
43.6%43.6%22.9%42.2%
Yes salary19.9%24.9%8.3%21.0%
Other3.2%2.3%2.1%2.8%
Total100.0%100.0%100.0%100.0%

* People responding with an “other” response that amounted to “Yes, subject to regulation” were grouped with with the Yes’s. These were 4.0% of women and 7.4% of men.

My personal bottom line on this is that the concept merits more study and I tend to feel that if we are going to do it for child care, we should consider allowing campaign funds to be used for income replacement more broadly.

My personal bottom line on this is that the concept merits more study and I tend to feel that if we are going to do it for child care, we should consider allowing campaign funds to be used for income replacement more broadly.

Join the Conversation

14 Comments

  1. I think using campaign funds to pay child care expenses related to a candidate’s campaign ought to be recognized as a legitimate expense. It is often a significant barrier, especially for woman. I am otherwise not in favor of expanding the use of campaign funds beyond its current definition.

  2. My campaign contributions are intended for the election of my chosen candidate, for his or her vision and strength, and ultimately for a civic life of which I am proud. Elected office is not for the faint of heart. All candidates need to reckon their resources and plan accordingly. Every candidate deserves equal special consideration. Candidates with any other special interests (tutoring in public schools, coaching sports, other personal imperatives) should receive equal paid expenses incurred during a campaign. I would never contribute funds to a candidate who would receive uniquely designed and targeted extra funds while other candidates’ special needs/interests are not considered. Infinitely broad criteria would undermine confidence in campaign finance law.

    1. This is a very good response and I almost changed my mind after reading it. But, upon even more thought – I’m sticking to my middle ground position of accepting child care expenses.
      The reason is because child care is distinctly different than other targeted needs (coaching, tutoring etc.) It doesn’t slide down the slippery slope in other words.
      And though Childcare doesn’t pass the “Irrespective Test,” if there’s a way to make it easier for more women to run, then I support it!

  3. My concern is that if campaign funds are needed for the campaign, how will the candidate manage child care if elected. I want more women in political office, I don’t think this is the best approach to solving this challenge.

  4. If universal day care and preschool were a thing, this would be slightly less of a problem, just sayin’ 😉

    1. Women disproportionately do most of “unpaid” work in the home including childcare. This is a service to humanity, and needs to be recognized as valid work. More women would be able to return to full or part-time employment, and run for public office, even be more civically engaged, if we had universal childcare. As long as women’s issues are being marginalized in our society, we won’t have an equal playing field. There must be concessions made for women to run for office, including being able to pay for childcare while campaigning.

  5. Until reading the follow-up explainations of federal and state regulations governing this matter, I was not sure of my stance on this matter…however, anything that might encourage the further development of the “professional politican” that is so common now, I cannot support…term limits on both state and federal levels are a necessity, I believe, and use of donor funds for personal needs is pandora’s box which should not be touched…as stated by other commentators: “universal day care and preschool” and medicare for all legislation would seem to start to address the situation. Our broken political process is hard to address and fix overnight and I along with many other thank you, Senator, for your work in this area.

  6. I am supportive of efforts to reduce barriers to running for office for all people, regardless of financial ability, gender, age, race, etc. However, abuse of campaign funds is rampant and steadily getting worse as more officials are emboldened by the current administration’s shameless self-dealing of funds. If there were a way to make sure this “loophole” would only be used by candidates who truly need it, I would be in favor of it, but I think it would be abused more often than it would be used legitimately. I see no need for wealthy people to siphon campaign funds to entertain their kids at the public’s expense, or worse, use it as an excuse to pad their own pockets. It would be better to not open this loophole, but I would support a means test for a candidate to apply for childcare assistance.

  7. As work becomes more and more precarious, and as the middle class has taken a huge hit over the past 40 years, I think it is totally legitimate for political candidates to pay themselves a reasonable salary, perhaps equivalent to the area median income in their home jurisdiction, to enable them to run a campaign. Old (and white) people tend to be in better financial shape and have increasingly horded the wealth in our society. You should not need to be rich or a lawyer or other self-employed professional with flexibility in order to spend time running for office. You should be able to run for office and still have a personal life. It’s a job.

    1. I agree with most of what you said, except the salary part. The public office is a job, and pays a salary. Running for office is not a job, it is a job search and an application process. Until everyone gets a salary for doing a job search, candidates shouldn’t get one either.

  8. While you’re at it how about not allowing a politician to hold office while running for a higher one. Zakim runs for city council, gets elected and announces that he is running for Sec. State. Warren gets elected to the senate and runs for president. Marty Walsh is running all around the country campaigning for the democratic party. It goes on and on. There are innumerable problems in their districts that these politicians should be working to solve. How effectively are they doing the job that we elected them for while they pursue their personal ambitions?

  9. I appreciate the background on this issue, as well as the thoughtful discussion points of previous posters.
    Where I’m landing right now is child care expenses paid, based on a candidate’s means. If they can fund their own campaign, they can pay their own childcare; if they are struggling, and their financials show that, they should be able to use funds for legit child care.
    I take Mr. Carbone’s point that universal child and health care should happen, but frankly it never will as long as our legislatures, state and federal, are male dominated, as the decades-long fight for women’s suffrage and health care rights has shown.

  10. At this point I oppose allowing campaign contributions to be used for child care expenses, and I’ll explain way, but let me begin by saying I can imagine changing my mind on this one.
    My concern is that this is a slippery slope–why limit the allowance just to child care expenses? Candidates without children have critical expenses also–for instance, taking care of aging parents. If I were to change my mind on this, I think I would end up being in favor of allowing a wide range of personal expenses to be supported through donations. But that runs the risk of turning “running for office” into a paid position, in which candidates would literally work for supporters–they would receive paychecks from people–and inevitably organizations–who supported them. That prospect makes me very uneasy.
    Let me just add, Will, that this is an important conversation. Thank you for initiating it. I’m eager to hear what others have to say.

  11. This is preposterous. If this line of reasoning is followed, then activities such as dog walking, running errands, getting the dry cleaning etc . . . will be considered legitimate campaign expenses and candidates will be able to mount a reasonable argument that any number of “irrespective activities” fall under the umbrella of appropriate use of campaign funds. In addition, such legislation likely violates the 1964 civil rights act, by allowing segmentation of campaign funds on the basis of gender and child rearing status.

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