Decision Looming on Childcare and Campaign Finance

Last year, the Federal Election Commission ruled that candidates running for Congress could use campaign funds for reasonable childcare expenses, and some are hoping Connecticut will follow.

The agency that regulates elections in Connecticut could decide later this week on whether candidates for higher office can use their campaign accounts to pay for childcare services.

“It’s not just about suits and dresses and high heels,” Caitlin Clarkson Pereira, who ran for the Connecticut House of Representatives last year. “It’s also about bringing a diaper bag along with you.”

Clarkson Pereira is the poster child in Connecticut on the question of whether campaign funds can be used for childcare. When she was running to defeat an incumbent in Fairfield, she found herself with a dilemma. She had to figure out how to care for her 3-year-old daughter, Parker, while also devoting the adequate time and energy toward her run.

She asked the State Elections Enforcement Commission for guidance. She didn’t like the answer she received.

“I had to read the letter multiple times,” she said. “Because, as a mother, I’m thinking, ‘are you comparing the safety and well-being of my 3-year-old to somebody’s cell phone bill?”

The agency told her that it had received numerous, similar, requests in the past, to use campaign funds for unconventional purposes like cell phone bills and automobile maintenance, but that didn’t sit well with her. She formally appealed the decision. A spokesman for the SEEC declined to comment to NBC Connecticut but said a ruling could come Wednesday.

Last year, the Federal Election Commission ruled that candidates running for Congress could use campaign funds for reasonable childcare expenses.

The chairwoman of the FEC, Ellen Weintraub, wrote a letter to the SEEC in Connecticut in support of Clarkson Pereira’s position.

Weintraub wrote, “Campaigns go to great lengths to maximize the efficiency of the candidate’s use of her time, and to free up as much of a candidate’s time as possible to directly further the campaign.” She added, “All in the name of freeing up the candidate’s time for the campaign. But if candidates are parents to one or more small children, they must provide care for those children, a time-intensive obligation that they may not ignore.”

Toward the end of her letter, she wrote, “if those funds are spent on childcare to expand the time that candidates are available to campaign, those childcare expenses directly further the candidate’s campaign for office.”

Clarkson Pereira is hopeful that Connecticut mirrors federal law. She says she won’t stop fighting if the decision doesn’t go her way this week.

“I have said from the very beginning that there’s no part of me that’s afraid of a Clarkson Pereira v. State of Connecticut situation so we’ll see if that’s a thing that we’ll have to take part in.”

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