Commission backs use of campaign funds for childcare

Says practice would allow more candidates to seek office

UNTIL SHE RAN for Congress, Liuba Grechen Shirley of New York worked from home as a consultant while caring for her children. In order to campaign, she had to hire a caregiver for her kids.

Shirley went on to lose her congressional race, but she succeed in making it easier for other parents to run for federal office. Her 2018 request to the Federal Election Commission resulted in an advisory opinion saying campaign funds can be used to pay for campaign-related childcare expenses.

However, what is true for the US Senate does not apply to the state Senate. Massachusetts still does not let candidates for state or municipal office use campaign funds to cover childcare expenses. The Office of Campaign and Political Finance considers childcare a “personal” expense, for which campaign funds cannot be used.

A report filed December 30 by a state commission examining the issue of childcare and campaign funds – which the Boston Globe reported on Tuesday – recommended that Massachusetts let campaign funds be used for childcare expenses in cases when childcare is needed as a direct result of campaign-related activities. For example, a candidate could hire a babysitter to attend an evening campaign fundraiser.

Thirteen other states and the federal government already allow this. “There is an abundance of precedence demonstrating that this can be done ethically and effectively,” said the report. Commission members discussed the benefits and pitfalls of allowing campaign funds to be used for childcare and concluded “that the allowance could dramatically impact some candidates’ ability to run for public office, and that clear regulation on the matter was in the best public interest,” according to the report.

The issue has been discussed for the past two legislative sessions. A Somerville school committee candidate raised the issue with lawmakers in 2017. Bills to let state candidates use campaign funds for childcare were introduced in 2017 and again in 2019, and ultimately resulted in the creation of the study commission. Similar bills have been reintroduced again this session, by Sen. Patricia Jehlen of Somerville and Reps. Mike Connolly of Cambridge and Joan Meschino of Hull.

The commission was led by the chairs of last session’s Election Laws Committee, Sen. Barry Finegold of Andover and Rep. John Lawn of Watertown.

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Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

In an interview, Finegold, who remains the committee chair, said he thinks the bill wasn’t passed previously because lawmakers needed more time to look at the policy – and last year it ran into the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that the report is out, Finegold said, he is hopeful the childcare provision could become part of a larger campaign finance bill this session. He believes it could give more people, particularly parents of young children, the opportunity to run for office.

“The last thing I’d want someone to do is not run for office because they feel they can’t have proper care for their child,” Finegold said.