Bill would allow campaign funds to pay for child care

Photo by Naa Dedei Coleman/ BU News Service

By Shannon Larson
BU News Service

BOSTON – Jynai McDonald walked from door to door, greeting potential voters and informing them about her platform. And on days that she found herself without child care, her kids would tag along for the routine.

After some time, however, the eagerness to participate and big grins would give way to boredom and tired eyes, a completely reasonable reaction, said McDonald, a Springfield resident.

“I remember someone telling me, ‘Well, you’re allowed to pay a volunteer to phone call, so maybe you’re really paying your babysitter, but maybe they’re making phone calls for you, wink, wink,’” she said. “And it was like, ‘Wow, you’re suggesting that I commit fraud.’”

Candidates in local and state elections are currently unable to use their campaign funds to pay for child care – it’s not one of the expenses approved by the Office of Campaign and Political Finance in Massachusetts. A campaign finance commission at the Statehouse is now looking into legislation that would change this.

Rep. Mike Connolly, D-Cambridge, and Rep. Joan Meschino, D-Hull, originally filed legislation that would have approved the use of campaign funds to pay for child care while a candidate was “performing work or attending certain campaign events.” That bill currently remains in the Election Laws Committee.

A campaign finance bill signed into law in November included language creating a commission to study the use of campaign funds to pay for child care. Members have been tasked with determining how this expense would be regulated, what the change would mean for candidates and what the timeline would look like.

Meschino said child care is a professional expense and by removing this barrier, it would enable a more diverse representative body to emerge in the long-run.

“You would get a more intergenerational voice, you would get a broader range of socioeconomic representation, gender representation – really across the board,” Meschino said. “All you have to do is take a look who runs for office and therefore who gets elected for office, and they tend to be older, retired men.”

The bill would allow campaign funds to pay for child care.

Women make up 28.5 percent of total lawmakers at the Massachusetts State House, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The Special Commission on Family Care and Child Care Services held its first of four planned meetings on Feb. 12, where the group of lawmakers, representatives from the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women and an appointee from Common Cause began debating the logistics of the bill.

At the gathering, the group wrestled over a number of questions. Under what circumstances could campaign funds be used for child care? Would the use of these funds extend to the broader category of family care? What would be the costs incurred if the candidate was not running for office? What deems a child care provider? Should a cap be set for candidates on how much of their funds could go toward child care? How would it be reported?

“There are a number of states that have done this already,” Meschino said. “The commission is researching both how they’ve approached it, whether or not anyone’s used it and whether or not this had any problems or success. It looks like it’ll be a thoughtful examination of the idea and the issue, and I feel very confident it’ll move forward.”

The commission must submit their recommendations for the bill to the Legislature by June 1.

The Federal Election Commission ruled in May 2018 that candidates running for federal office could use their campaign funds to pay for child care. And more than a dozen states approve of the use of campaign funds to pay for child care, according to the Center for American Women and Politics, but only six states – Minnesota, Utah, Colorado, New
York, New Hampshire and California – have enshrined the practice into law.

Jill Ashton, executive director of the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women, said women are disproportionately impacted when it comes to handling child care responsibilities, and this legislation could go a long way in placing more women in “positions of decision-making when it comes to developing public policy.”

“There’s a calculation that they run through in their head about whether or not this is something that they’re going to be able to do and able to do well,” she said. “There’s plenty of research on that in terms of women needing to feel very well prepared and very well supported before they raise their hands or run for public office.”

Although Ashton noted that it’s not only women who would benefit from the legislation’s passage, but the whole demographic of employed parents, especially those who cannot fork over the average annual cost for child care in the state.

In Massachusetts, it costs on average $20,900 a year for infant care alone, according to the Economic Policy Institute, making the state the second-most expensive for such costs in the nation.

Among the list of expenses that the state’s OCPF does allow candidates to write off: renting a tuxedo for an event, traveling for work and purchasing food for election-related gatherings.

“Meals is often a sore point,” said Gregory Birne, OCPF general counsel. “It’s a very broad statement that allows meals expenditures to be made for the enhancement of the political future. We have not said, ‘Okay, you can only spend up to this amount or you can’t go to this restaurant.’ It’s not something we can regulate.”

The next meeting to discuss the optics of the legislation is set to take place at the Statehouse in early March.

This article was originally published in The Patriot Ledger.

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