Proposal would allow candidates to use campaign dollars for childcare expenses

The Iowa Statehouse (Photo: Caroline Cummings).

A bill filed at the Iowa Statehouse would allow candidates running for office in the state to use campaign money for child care expenses under some circumstances.

The proposal from the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board would amend state campaign finance law to allow Iowa candidates to use campaign funds to pay for expenses related to the care of any dependent of the candidate.

This comes in wake of a July 2018 ruling from the board that kept candidates in Iowa from using campaign money for childcare needs. The ruling was in response to an inquiry from Reyma McCoy McDeid, a former Iowa House District candidate who asked the board to weigh in on the issue.

“The board believed that it was not clear whether child care expenses would be considered a campaign expense or a personal expense and they believed it would be an issue best left for the legislature to decide,” said Megan Tooker, executive director of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.

Iowa law bars candidates or candidates’ committees from using campaign funds for “personal benefit.” Tooker said the proposal is an attempt to clear up confusion and would allow candidates running for office to use campaign money for child care expenses related to their campaign.

Using money for childcare needs would only be permissible if certain criteria are met, like if a care provider is not the spouse and if costs were incurred as a direct result of campaign activity. The bill also requires candidates to keep a log of all details surrounding the care expense.

“I think it’s important for the public to understand that this is not an issue of whether the government should pay for dependent care. The candidate would have to raise sufficient funds in order to pay for these child care expenses,” said Tooker, who noted that she has spoken to some lawmakers about the proposal, but it’s unclear whether either chamber will consider it at this time.

What’s happening in other states?

The Federal Election Commission issued a ruling in May 2018 allowing candidates running for federal office to use campaign money for child care costs incurred while campaigning. McDeid filed her request for an advisory opinion from the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board after that ruling came down.

A woman running for office in Connecticut asked a similar question of a state agency, which ruled child care costs qualify as personal or household expenses.

In both situations, over 1,000 miles apart, each woman received the same answer: no.

But that could soon change, an expert contends.

“I certainly think as more and more women run for office, this is going to be an issue we’re going to see across the country,” said Dianne Bystrom, former director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics. “I think we’re going to see states and their ethics commissions act on it with some guidance from the FEC.”

Currently only a handful of states allow campaign funds to cover campaign costs, said Christi Zamarripa, a policy associate with the National Conference of State Legislatures, in an email.

California, Texas, Wisconsin allow for this—in Alabama, under more limited circumstances. Arkansas has given the OK in only particular case.

In Minnesota, state law permits campaign money for child care and goes a step further to allow state legislators to use campaign money for costs incurred while working in state government.

But it’s “hard to tell if states are or aren’t acting on the issue,” as a result of the FEC ruling, Zamarripa said.

She also notes campaign finance regulation often falls to boards or commissions on a case by case basis. For California, Texas and Wisconsin, it was an ethics commission that gave a ruling; however, in Minnesota, it’s written clear in statute.

‘It will encourage more people to run, primarily women’

The language in the bill at the Iowa statehouse isn’t gender-specific—both men and women running for office would be poised to benefit. But Bystrom notes that with a record-number of women running for office in 2018 nationwide, it’s no secret that a proposal like this would encourage more women to run in the future.

“It will encourage more people to run, primarily women,” said Bystrom. “The fact of the matter is that women—even when they work outside of the home—continue to be the primary caregivers for the children, according to survey research.”

The number one reason women don’t run for office, Bystrom said, is differences in political ambition compared to men. But the second reason that tends to hold women back is concerns over child care.

“They worry about, when they do have children, the fact of who is going to take care of the kids,” Bystrom said.

The Iowa legislature convenes January 14.

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