Editorial Reverse ruling on campaign child care

April 5, 2019

Running for office is hard work.

Faced with a competitive race, a potential candidate has little choice but to spend countless hours building name recognition, meeting voters and making the rounds. Other than those lucky enough to be born a Kennedy or a Bush, people will likely have never heard of most candidates and have no reason to cast votes in their favor.

It isn’t easy to balance the necessities of life with that kind of schedule. The state should make it easier for more people to get involved, and it certainly shouldn’t be placing new obstacles in front of people who might make up the next generation of leaders.

That’s why it was disheartening to see the State Election Enforcement Commission rule this week that publicly financed candidates for state office in Connecticut cannot use campaign funds for child care. The commission was interpreting current rules that said those funds could be used “only for campaign-related expenditures made to directly further” a nomination or election.

The decision was unexpected, and shouldn’t stand. Gov. Ned Lamont has called for legislation to reverse the ruling, and lawmakers should follow through this session.

The original complaint came from Fairfield resident Caitlin Clarkson Pereira, who campaigned for a state House seat last year. With a young child and a lack of other options, she sought to use public campaign funds to pay for child care, saying it was necessary to run for office.

“I may have done two or three hours of door knocking that entire week,” she said last year. “When it’s hot out, you can’t bring a 3-year-old around.”

Her position had support from high places, including Ellen L. Weintraub, the chair of the Federal Election Commission. Nevertheless, the state commission thought differently.

Child care is one of the great unmet needs in America today. The burden on parents of young children who want to do nearly anything else can often seem insurmountable, and not everyone has a relative who can fill the gaps. Child care is expensive, and parents need to weigh carefully whether what they want to do is worth the equivalent cost of sending a toddler to college for a year.

The state needs to decide who it wants to run for office. Parents of young children are directly affected by any number of legislative actions, from school funding to health care to environmental decisions. They should be welcomed and encouraged to run for office.

The state’s public financing system has helped open up the possibilities of holding office to more people, but there are ways it could be improved. Running a campaign is a time-consuming endeavor, and the state should want to ensure that people other than the independently wealthy have the wherewithal to take it on.

The Legislature should recognize that child care is often essential to a campaign, and pass a law to allow public funds to pay for it.