Oklahoma City – The Oklahoma Ethics Commission may allow candidates to use campaign funds to cover the costs of child care, day care or other child care.
Senator Jessica Garvin, who asked the commission to allow dependent care expenses, said that allowing candidates to use campaign funds to cover child care costs incurred as a result of running for office would harm young parents. It will be easier for fathers – especially mothers – to seek elected office.
At Thursday’s meeting, the five-member panel unanimously agreed to explore the issue. The Ethics Commission will hold a public hearing to seek feedback on Garvin’s request, although no date has been set.
Ethics Commission Director Ashley Kemp said such campaign spending is not allowed under the state’s current campaign finance rules.
Garvin, R-Duncan, introduced legislation this year that would allow candidates to use campaign funds for child care expenses, but his bill stalled in the Senate.
Garvin, a mother of three, said she introduced the bill after a friend told her it would be a challenge to campaign for city council. The friend was struggling to find someone to care for her young children because her family lived outside of Oklahoma.
Garvin said that when she was running for state Senate and spending long hours talking to voters in her district, she often had to rely on her support network of family and friends to care for her children.
“I firmly believe that there is no reason why child care should be a barrier to anyone entering the workforce or entering public service,” Garvin said. “You shouldn’t have to choose between being a parent and having a successful career.”
A national group focused on getting more mothers elected to political office urged Garvin to ask the Ethics Commission to investigate the issue.
The Vote Mama Foundation has helped 29 states authorize the use of campaign funds for child care or dependent care through legislation, ethics commission decisions, or advisory opinions from secretaries of state or attorneys general.
Sarah Hague, chief program officer at Vote Mama, said, “If you can buy a tuxedo or even a new car in some states with your campaign dollars or gala tickets… you should be able to use your campaign funds to pay for child care.” Must be able to cover the expenses.”
The founder of Vote Mama, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2018, helped change federal election rules so candidates can use their campaign funds to cover child care costs. Now, his group is pushing for all states to follow suit.
Some states allow campaign cash to be used for dependent care, which Hague called the “gold standard.” He said that dependent care will not only help candidates with children, but also those who are taking care of an aging parent or a disabled adult child.
Hague said changes to campaign finance rules could eliminate some of the barriers that prevent mothers from running for office.
He said only 4% of Oklahoma lawmakers in 2022 were mothers of children under 18. Vote Mama’s research ranked the Oklahoma Legislature 31st for the number of female legislators with minor children.
“There are a lot of caregivers who aren’t even considering running for office because of financial constraints,” Hague said. “If they knew they could use the money they raised to cover those care-related expenses, they might consider it.”
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