BOSTON – May 17, 2019 – Legislators, advocates, and candidates for elected office testified yesterday at the State House on behalf of S.408/H.639, An Act supporting parents running for public office, filed by Representatives Joan Meschino (D-Hull) and Mike Connolly (D-Cambridge), and Senator Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville). The bill would update state campaign finance laws to allow candidates running for public office to use campaign funds for childcare expenses incurred on the campaign trail.
Segments of our population continue to experience barriers to candidacy for public office which leads to a less diverse representation in the Commonwealth. Current state campaign finance laws allow candidates to use campaign funds for a wide variety of expenses, including meals with constituents and lodging accommodations. Yet campaign finance laws do not include an expense as basic as childcare services. Campaigning is time-consuming. At the hearing, supporters argued that the absence of childcare on the list of acceptable campaign expenses prevents qualified candidates from running for office, forces candidates to drop out of an election, or makes campaigning all the more challenging.
Lee Erica Palmer, a Somerville School Committee member, inspired the legislation. She experienced mounting childcare costs while campaigning for local office. “I committed over 500 hours of my time in 2015 to campaign-related meetings, events, and door-to-door canvassing. As a single, low-income parent, I certainly could not afford 500 hours of paid childcare. However, even with family and friends assisting, I still had to pay for approximately 250 hours of babysitting out of my own pocket over the course of the year, itself an extremely difficult expense.”
A challenge for all parents, advocates argue that paying for childcare while running for office affects women, and women of color in particular. According to a 2011 survey, “in families where both adults are working (generally in high-level careers), women are roughly six times more likely than men to bear responsibility for the majority of household tasks, and they are about ten times more likely to be the primary childcare provider.”
Francia Vieda Wisnewski, a former candidate for State Representative, said “when my children were younger, I wouldn’t have even considered running for office even though I wanted to run. I simply couldn’t have afforded the additional childcare that I would have needed.”
Senator Jehlen echoed Wisnewski’s sentiments: “Between canvassing, fundraising, and meetings, campaigns require a commitment of many hundreds of hours. Childcare costs can quickly add up. For me, if I didn’t have a friend who could take care of my kids when I first ran for school committee, I couldn’t have knocked on every door in Ward 2 twice.”
“If we believe representation matters in public office, then we need to break down barriers to entry for underrepresented groups. That’s why we filed this legislation to make childcare an allowable campaign expense,” Representative Connolly said. “I’m proud to be working with so many colleagues to make this concept a reality in the Commonwealth.”
“We should strive for more socio-economic, gender, and inter-generational diversity across elected offices in Massachusetts. This bill provides an important mechanism to encourage more representative candidate pools by building equity into our election system,” said Representative Meschino.
Nina Kimball, Chair of the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women, said, “An Act Supporting Parents Running for Public Office is a simple and straightforward bill that, if passed, would eliminate a major barrier that keeps competitive candidates – women, mothers, working parents – from running or makes their candidacy unfairly difficult, and would actively promote a more diverse and representative state legislature.”
“For my family, my inability to utilize my campaign funds to pay for necessary childcare meant that my female partner and I needed to sacrifice her career so that I could run or sacrifice my daughter’s quality of care. In this day and age, when fathers want to fully participate in caring for our children, we must ensure that we have the support to pay for necessary childcare and not be in the untenable and unfair position of asking and expecting our female partners to sacrifice their own economic and career opportunities,” said Owen Zaret, candidate for City Council, Easthampton.
It is time for Massachusetts to take action. Nationally, the FEC has already ruled that campaign funds may be utilized for the provision of childcare, so those running for federal office are already able to use them as such. Six states (Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Louisiana) have also enacted regulations to allow for state and local level candidates to use funds for childcare.
The bill is before the Joint Committee on Election Laws, and now waits to be reported out of committee.