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Public campaign grants can’t pay the babysitter, state commission rules

April 3, 2019

HARTFORD — In Connecticut, some political candidates can use their campaign funds to pay for child care, but candidates who receive public grants cannot.

Although a growing number of states have ruled that child care is a generally permissable campaign expense, the all-male State Elections Enforcement Commission ruled Wednesday public campaign funds from the Citizens’ Election Program cannot be used to pay a babysitter while a candidate is campaigning. The commission advised a change like this must be made by the legislature.

The ruling was sought by Caitlin Clarkson Pereira, a Fairfield Democrat who ran for state representative in 2018, but was not elected.

Clarkson Pereira, who listened to the ruling with her 4-year-old daughter Parker, was disappointed and frustrated by the decision. She may appeal to the courts or try to get the legislature to raise a bill next year, she said. And she did not rule out running for office again to raise the bill herself.

“This is not the end of this road,” she said.

No lawmaker filed a bill to change this part of campaign finance law this year. The timing of the commission’s decision largely precludes legislative action this year in response to the ruling.

Responding to a query from Pereira, the SEEC issued an informal opinion in August stating Clarkson Pereira could not use campaign money to pay for a babysitter. In October, Clarkson Pereira appealed and filed a petition for a declaratory ruling.

The Federal Election Commission allows Congressional candidates to use campaign funds to pay for child care. Ellen L. Weintraub, chair of the FEC, submitted comments to the State Elections Enforcement Commission urging the group to permit public campaign funds to be used to pay for child care.

“I have a long track record as a fierce opponent of any personal use of campaign funds, and I am comfortable with this result,” she said. “It is fair to candidates who are parents, and will expand —and diversify — the pool of people who will be able to run for federal office.”

Liuba Grechen Shirley, who ran for Congress in New York, and sought the FEC ruling on child care costs sent a letter to the SEEC urging them to support Clarkson Pereira’s request.

Connecticut’s Lieutenant Gov. Susan Bysiewicz also submitted comments in supporting the change.

“While I am prepared to advocate for legislative changes, the SEEC has sufficient legal authority to determine that such expenses are permissible from the CEP fund under the existing statutes and regulations and such determination would be consistent with prior rulings of the SEEC,” she wrote.

Wisconsin, Minnesota, Texas, Alabama, and Arkansas permit campaign funds to be spent on child care. The Utah legislature also approved the idea.

In Connecticut, candidates who are not receiving public campaign monies can use their campaign funds to pay a babysitter as long as the child care need is a direct result of campaign activities, the cost is reasonable and the payment is properly documented.

emunson@hearstmediact.com; Twitter: @emiliemunson