The Louisiana Board of Ethics voted on Friday to allow political candidates to use campaign funds to pay for certain child care expenses. Some say the decision breaks down a barrier that working parents, especially women, face getting on the ballot.
The action reverses a previous decision made just three months ago, which said candidates couldn’t spend campaign dollars to cover child care while they attend a fundraiser with constituents.
"When you’re a working family those expenses add up. Childcare as it is is already very expensive, so to incur additional costs to run for office, it definitely is a barrier for working families," says Morgan Lamandre, a Democratic candidate for a Baton Rouge seat in Louisiana's House of Representatives.
Lamandre is an attorney and the mother of two young kids. Campaigning for that seat often means attending events that take place in the evening. This week, for instance, she has a fundraiser - but her husband works late in Lafayette.
"In the past when something has come up he would have to either lose commissions and come home early or we would have to pay out of pocket for additional child care expenses," she explains.
Lamandre asked the Ethics Board if she could use campaign funds to pay for child care in situations like this one. In November, they rejected the request. Candidates would have to pay for that child care out of personal funds.
The Board took some heat for that decision, not only from the public, but from state lawmakers, like State Senator Beth Mizell (R-Franklinton). She’s the chair of Louisiana’s Legislative Women’s Caucus.
"For years and years, it was a non-issue when a male candidate asked for the same privilege. There was never a problem. Suddenly - and this was the mind-boggling part of it - when a women candidate asked the very same thing, it was denied," says Mizell.
Back in 2000, the Ethics Board voted to allow a male elected official to use campaign funds to cover child care. That was a different Board than the one today.
Current members say this decision had nothing to do with gender, but with the lack of specifics in Lamandre’s original request. The concern was that without a clear definition of “campaign event,” candidates could potentially abuse the ruling. Maybe they run into a constituent out at dinner and then decide to pay for the babysitter with campaign funds. That would be a problem, according to the Board.
Along with Lamandre, the Women’s Caucus asked the Board to reconsider the decision. So did Lamandre’s opponent in the race, incumbent State Representative Rick Edmonds (R-Baton Rouge).
"I don’t understand how you can approve for one and not the other," says Edmonds, "it doesn’t make any sense to me."
The Board narrowly reversed the decision last week, allowing child care expenses to be covered with campaign funds in certain situations. Lamandre says it opens the door for working parents and women to pursue elected office.
"They won’t also be thinking about the family’s finances and whether or not they can actually attempt to do this without hurting overall the family’s finances," she explains.
Nichole Bauer is an assistant professor of political communication at LSU. She says this new ruling impacts a whole host of individuals who face hurdles getting on a ballot, not just women, but people of color, and younger candidates with small children.
"That expectation that you’ll pay for child care out of your own personal wealth, it means you have to actually have amassed a large quantity of personal wealth to actually run for political office," she explains.
At the end of the day, Bauer says it’s about creating a level playing field for all candidates.
"Over the long term," says Bauer, "it really has the potential to shake up who it is that is sitting in elected office in Louisiana."
Especially in a state where women make up less than 15 percent of the Legislature, the third lowest rate in the nation according to 2018 data from the National Conference of State Legislators.
The issue could come up in the Legislature next session. A handful of lawmakers, including State Senator Troy Carter (D-New Orleans), are considering legislation that would strengthen state laws allowing campaign funds to pay for child care expenses during campaign events.