Child Care Is a Campaign Expense

Liuba Grechen Shirley

A wave of women candidates have decided to run for public office since the disheartening 2016 presidential election—and it’s already making a difference in how campaigns are run. EMILY’s List, which works to get pro-choice Democratic women elected at all levels of government, announced last month that more than 36,000 women have contacted them to express interest in running, compared with just 920 women through the entire 2016 election cycle. Four hundred seventy-six women started off running for seats in the House of Representatives for 2018 (though that number is being diminished by primary races).

One of those women, Liuba Grechen Shirley, is gearing up for the June 26 primary in the 2nd district of New York, on Long Island, where she’s competing for a chance to run against incumbent Republican Peter King this fall.

It turns out that running a congressional campaign is pretty time-consuming, and if you have two little kids, like Grechen Shirley does, and your spouse isn’t the stay-at-home variety (her husband commutes into Manhattan for work), you’re going to need to hire a babysitter.

“There’s a reason that more than half of representatives are millionaires,” Grechen Shirley said to Bustle. “It’s very hard to run for office if you’re not independently wealthy—you take a year to a year and a half off your life without a salary.”

Grechen Shirley pays her sitter $22 per hour to watch her two children, and the funds come from her campaign kitty, just like the salaries of the campaign manager and the finance director.

Earlier this month, Grechen Shirley received official permission from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to use those campaign funds for child care, resolving a problem that is proving to be more and more relevant as women make the choice to run for office. Only one other candidate has ever spent campaign money on child care—Jim McCrey was allowed to hire a sitter for his young son in 1995 so that his wife could accompany him to campaign events.

Twenty-three years later, because of Grechen Shirley’s request, the FEC has officially acknowledged in an advisory opinion that child care expenses can be paid out of campaign funds when they are incurred as a direct result of campaign activity rather than personal use—in other words, because Grechen Shirley wasn’t paying a babysitter before she started her campaign (she worked from home as a consultant and had some help from her mother), her need for child care qualifies.

It’s a major step into the 21st century for parents running for public office. Now that Tammy Duckworth’s baby is allowed on the Senate floor, there are at least seven lactation rooms in the Capitol, and there’s a women’s bathroom off the House floor (only since 2011), here’s hoping that this year’s midterms will help bring the numbers of women in Congress into the modern age at long last.