Women Candidates Score Another Victory as FEC Rules Campaign Funds Can Be Used for Child Care

In an unprecedented move, the Federal Election Commission has given a first-time female candidate the green light to use a portion of her campaign funds to pay for child care.

The FEC ruled on Thursday that the request from Liuba Grechen Shirley, who's running in New York's 2nd District, fell under the "Act and Commission regulations," which permits candidates to use campaign funds for "specific purposes, including 'ordinary and necessary expenses incurred in connection with the duties of the individual as a holder of Federal office.'"

Grechen Shirley petitioned the commission in April, arguing that if she was going to defeat her primary opponent and topple 13-term Republican incumbent Pete King, she was going to need some help—from her babysitter.

"Our babysitter is just as important as my campaign manager or my finance director," Grechen Shirley told Newsweek last month. "She's just as integral, and she's paid as staff. I couldn't run my campaign without her."

When Grechen Shirley, the full-time caregiver of two toddlers, announced her candidacy in October, she became an expert multitasker, perhaps even more so than most mothers already are. Grechen Shirley said she would drop her 3-year-old, Mila, off at nursery school and walk around the neighborhood with her son, Nicholas, for a few hours, answering emails, making constituent phone calls and generally trying to get her campaign off the ground. Now, her days look a little different: Every morning, a babysitter comes over for a few hours to watch the children while the candidate conducts her campaign business from her home office upstairs.

The change has made a huge difference for her campaign, according to Grechen Shirley.

With a record number of women running for office in 2018, many have asked why child care costs should not be considered part of the campaign.

Hillary Clinton was among them, penning her own letter to the FEC last month, asking that the commission approve Grechen Shirley's request, a case she said was "especially striking" since Grechen Shirley wouldn't require child care if she were not running a campaign.

"Denying Ms. Shirley's request would undermine the Commission's previous advisory opinions, discourage young mothers from seeking elective office, and deprive parents of ordinary means of the opportunity to serve," Clinton wrote in her letter. "Young women like Ms. Shirley are now running for office in record-breaking numbers.... Under a plain reading of the law, as applied to Ms. Shirley's facts, the answer to her question can only be 'yes.'"

On Wednesday, 24 members of Congress joined Clinton's call and submitted a joint letter to the FEC in favor of Grechen Shirley's request.

The FEC's Thursday decision is just the latest gain in the ongoing struggle to make the political arena friendlier to women and mothers.

After worrying for months that becoming the first sitting senator to give birth while in office would mean temporarily relinquishing her voting power and, by extension, ability to do her job, Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth won the right to bring her daughter onto the Senate floor. Before an April change to Senate Rule 23, which states family members are banned from the Senate floor, some speculated that Duckworth might have to breastfeed her newborn in a nearby bathroom.

It's obstacles like these, Grechen Shirley said, that make it difficult for women to see where they fit into political life. And it often starts with deciding whether or not to run for the very first time.

"My children were my biggest hesitation when I was considering whether or not to run for office," Grechen Shirley told Newsweek. "In the end, they're the reason I decided to go through with it. I want to see more people in Congress who understand what it's like to have to worry about child care and mortgages and students loans, because those are the people who are going to give us a voice."

WE WON! Thank you to the FEC Commissioners for their unanimous vote to approve our request to use campaign funds for childcare! This is a game changer for women and parents considering a run for office. pic.twitter.com/FUfrxXOmVS

— Liuba Grechen Shirley (@liuba4congress) May 10, 2018