Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) and a group of female Democrat legislators recently unveiled a proposal (Assembly Bill 220) to allow campaign funds to be spent on childcare expenses for the candidate’s children.
New East Bay Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks spoke of the difficulties for parents with young children on the campaign trail, telling the Sacramento Bee that, “sometimes in order to fight for change, you need a little help changing the diaper.” The bill’s joint author, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego), said that, “I know the struggle of balancing a household budget on a limited income, and I’m also very aware of the financial and time constraints with running for office.”
There’s no doubt that financial and family obligations often stand in the way of good people – especially women – deciding to throw their hats in the ring to seek elective office. Affordable child care is a concern for working parents in virtually every profession, and public service is no exception.
Assembly Bill 220 seems like a reasonable way to empower more regular people to run for office, one that would benefit male and female parents alike. Healdsburg Mayor David Hagele told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat that he sees a “’cultural shift’ with more fathers getting involved in child care.”
It’s an issue that is becoming more prominent nationwide. According to CNN, there are efforts in at least 6 states to allow parents to use campaign dollars for child care.
Some conservatives, however, are scoffing at the proposal. One unnamed lawmaker told Katy Grimes of the California Globe that, “if Democrats want to spend their precious campaign dollars on babysitting, let them!” That’s short-sighted thinking.
Allowing campaign dollars to be spent on child care is not about giving some advantage to Democrats.
Republican and Democrat parents alike face the same challenges balancing family budgets and the needs of their children with their desire to make their voices heard. I’m sure that unnamed lawmaker would change his tune if an “ideal GOP candidate” had to forgo running in a swing district because of child care obligations.
Generally, candidates are prohibited from spending campaign dollars on personal expenses, unless they are incurred because of the campaign. As Columbia Law School professor Richard Briffault told Governing magazine, “’if you had previously hired outside help for child care [prior to running for office], it’s not clear why you should be able to have a tax-exempt fund for this’ . . . (but) if a person suddenly needs to hire more outside help ‘because she is in a campaign, than that is a legitimate thing to do.’”
Over the years, there have been countless headlines about questionable campaign spending by candidates and elected officials. Examples include junkets to Hawaii, Las Vegas, and golf resorts, concert tickets for a-list artists, first class hotel stays, dinners at 5-star restaurants – even high priced French wine. It seems much more justifiable to let candidates spend campaign cash for child care than it does spending other people’s money subsidizing a lavish lifestyle they otherwise couldn’t afford.
The bottom line is that allowing the use of campaign funds to pay for child care could help pave the way for more “citizen legislators” in Sacramento, which we desperately need in a town dominated by professional politicians serving their own self-interests.
Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s communications director.