A bill that would allow parents running for public office to use campaign funds for childcare was recently introduced by Massachusetts State Senator Patricia Jehlen, who represents Medford, Somerville, Cambridge and Winchester.
If enacted, the bill would amend Massachusetts law to allow candidates running for non-federal office seats to use campaign funds to pay for childcare, bringing the commonwealth in line with 29 other states which allow the same. While the bill has been passed by the Massachusetts Senate several times, it has never made it to the top of the legislative agenda until now.
When asked why she supported this bill, Jehlen shared a story of a constituent from Somerville who fundraised with the intention of having enough money to pay for childcare while she canvassed and did other campaigning activities.
“She found out … she could not use campaign funds for that, and she didn’t have enough income herself [to] do that,” Jehlen said.
Jehlen pointed out the inconsistencies in campaign finance law.
“People are allowed to use campaign funds to rent cars, to rent tuxedos, to take each other out to dinner,” she said. “Particularly for women, who are often the caregivers — but [also] for anybody who has kids — [this restriction] can be a barrier.”
Dawne Shand, a Massachusetts state representative, first ran for office when her child was 5 years old.
“People said to me, ‘Have you thought about your daughter?’ and they said ‘Have you asked your husband what he thinks?’” Shand said. “I really think Massachusetts has changed dramatically. It has become a much less conventional place than it was even 15 years ago.”
This bill could help pave the way for more people to run for office by including people who could not afford the costs of childcare in addition to the costs of campaigning, according to Sara Suzuki, a researcher with Tufts’ Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. Suzuki said that the bill could help create a more representational democracy.
“In the United States, even though we want individuals from a lot of diverse backgrounds to seek elected office in order to have a healthy, functioning democracy, the reality is that there are really vast inequities in who gets to run for office,” Suzuki said. “One of the inequities that this Senate bill … addresses is [having] the financial means to get childcare.”
Jehlen recalled being able to have a friend watch her own kids while she knocked on doors for her campaign for school committee, noting how her career might have been altered if she did not have access to childcare.
“I could’ve run, but I wouldn’t have won; I wouldn’t have had time [to campaign].” Jehlen said. “I knocked on doors for about 20 hours a week. … And so, if I had been paying for that now, it’d be significant.”
Suzuki said the bill could not only provide a form of encouragement to run for office, but also help to break down one of many financial barriers that young parents face when running.
“People say that they are extremely concerned about running for office because of the loss of income. … So, anything that can address that in some way is really important,” Suzuki said.
Jehlen said that while there is pushback against the bill, it primarily has to do with people’s misconceptions around the misuse of campaign spending.
“Sometimes people who haven’t thought about it a great deal … think that women would take advantage of it and use campaign funds to go out to dinner with their spouse, or just have a nice time,” she said. “All of those things can happen with regular campaign spending. … People imagine that [child care] will be abused, whereas they don’t imagine that any other form of campaign spending would be abused.”
Shand believes the bill would level the playing field, allowing parents to support their children while pursuing their career goals.
“It’s an incredibly time-consuming process to run a competitive campaign,” Shand said. “It can be an incredible burden on the family under the best of circumstances, … so I really advocate for this bill for people with younger children.”