In-Depth: Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) — the first single mother with young children to serve in Congress — introduced this bill to allow campaign funds to go towards childcare, thereby making it easier for working parents to run for elected office:
“As a single working mom of three young kids, I know firsthand about the barriers that stop many Americans from serving their country in public office. Most Americans my age are working parents—including many in the 45th District—but there are few of us with a seat at the table when it comes to writing legislation to make life easier for working families. My bill would clarify that campaign funds can be spent on childcare and enable more working parents to make the jump into public service.”
In a CNN interview with Van Jones, Rep. Porter explained why this bill is needed to make Congress more economically diverse. In response to Jones’ observation that she, as a single mother, is “almost like an economic minority in the House” despite being a tenured professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, Rep. Porter observed that it would be incredibly difficult for the average working person to run for, and then transition to life in, Congress:
“I think this is one of the most surprising things for me is, I think I understood I was being elected to a position of privilege and of power and responsibility. I think I didn’t understand the extent to which Congress is kind of set up for — and run by — the wealthy. And I’m certainly not at the bottom of the economic spectrum, I have a good job as a professor… But some of the things that I’m told really reveal what a privileged institution it is. When I was looking for a district office, I said well, you know, how do I pay a security deposit? They said we don’t provide funds for a security deposit. And they said use your ‘personal funds.’ And so, like the healthcare, we start the job January 3, our health care as members doesn’t start until February 1st. So, I said well how do my children and I have insurance — as I’m ethically prohibited from working in another job — how do my kids and I have health insurance in that period? They said go on your husband’s. And I said I don’t have a husband. And then the answer again was ‘personal funds.’... I have a bill I’m excited about, that I believe is going to have bipartisan support, called the Help America Run Act. And what it does is allow candidates to use campaign donations to pay for health insurance premiums and childcare costs, so we can continue to diversify the voices representing the diversity of the American people.”
In remarks on the House floor on March 7, 2019, Rep. Porter noted that grueling campaign schedules require women candidates with young children to have childcare assistance. She argued that it made sense for childcare to be an allowable campaign expenditure given this calculus:
“When I ran for Congress last year, I spent thousands and thousands of dollars on childcare. Running for Federal office requires 60- to 90-hour workweeks, and I worked every single day, including every single weekend. I also worked challenging hours, normally starting my day at 6:45 a.m. and ending with campaign events stretching late into the evenings. I juggled dozens and dozens of childcare providers for nearly 2 years, without whom I would never have made it to Congress… [U]ntil this year, women's representation in Congress was less than 20 percent. With the election of my historic class, we hit 23.4 percent--102 women… [T]hat number is still very low. There are even fewer moms in Congress and even fewer single moms, as in nobody but me. A major barrier to women running for elected office is their inability to afford the amount or type of childcare needed in a campaign. That is why I worked to include language in H.R. 1, the For the People Act, and introduced an identical standalone bill, the Help America Run Act. It explicitly allows candidates for Federal office to use campaign contributions to pay for childcare.”
The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law supports this bill. The Director of its Democracy Program, Wendy R. Weiser, says, “Giving non-wealthy candidates more ways to make ends meet so they can run for office is another step towards truly representative government, one that we strongly support.”
Dr. Nicholas Carnes, Creed C. Black Associate Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Duke University, supports this bill as a “novel” piece of legislation to help make Congress more diverse:
“I have spent the last decade using quantitative data to study the obstacles that discourage middle- and working-class Americans from running for elected political office. The Help America Run Act would send a powerful message to working Americans. The legislation is truly novel; it would be the first federal legislation in American history to acknowledge the existence of an economic gap between members of Congress and the people they represent.”
This legislation doesn’t have any cosponsors.Rep. Porter introduced this legislation as an amendment to H.R.1, the For the People Act.
Of Note: Current federal law doesn’t expressly address whether it’s allowable to use campaign funds for childcare payments. Generally, under the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act, child care, elder care and health insurance costs while campaigning fall under a ban on using campaign funds for “personal use.”
Consequently, candidates who want definitive guidance need to individually appeal to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for an advisory opinion. While the FEC can waive the personal use rule on a case-by-case basis to allow campaign funds’ use for childcare costs, Dr. Carnes notes that “the appeals process is difficult (a recent review by the House Administration Committee found that only two candidates have succeeded)” and requires candidates to prove that they wouldn’t have incurred the childcare expenses had they not run for public office.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Mukhina1)