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California candidates and elected officials could use campaign funds to pay for child care under new bill

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Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, a Democrat, and her daughter, Josephine, 2, look at the Assembly Gallery during the Legislative session Dec. 3, 2018, in Sacramento.
(Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

A group of California legislators want to make it easier for parents of young children to run for office by allowing candidates and elected officials to use campaign funds to pay for child care.

The Democratic lawmakers said Wednesday that the change would encourage more women to run for elected office, potentially boosting gender parity in the state Legislature and in local governments across California.

“When you are thinking about running for office, the first thing that comes to mind is what am I going to do with my kids?” Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio (D-Baldwin Park) said. “The perspective should change to how can I be a good candidate without having to worry about what you will do with your kids.”

Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) said details of his legislation, Assembly Bill 220, including whether there would be limits on how much or how often campaign funds could be tapped for child care, would be worked out in the coming months.

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There are no spending caps outlined in the bill, but using money from a campaign account for child care would only be allowed for time spent on campaigning or official work.

“The goal is to remove barriers that make it more challenging for parents of young children to run for public office at the local or the state level,” Bonta said at a Capitol news conference on Wednesday.

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California’s campaign finance laws allow candidates to use their campaign accounts for reasonable expenses with a political, legislative and governmental purpose. That can include attorney fees, parking tickets and formal wear for political events, as long as there is not a substantial personal benefit to the candidate or officeholder.

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That leaves some candidates scrambling when it comes to one of the largest expenses for most families — child care.

The Fair Political Practices Commission advises candidates running for office that they can use some campaign funds to pay for a babysitter while campaigning, with a cap of $200 per event, without running afoul of the law. That allowance was set in 1994, but is not enshrined in the law and does not specifically address when an elected official can use their campaign account for child care, such as during the day while working in the Legislature.

The Federal Election Commission ruled last year that candidates seeking federal office can use election accounts to pay for child care while on the campaign trail. That change came after New York Congressional candidate Liuba Grechen Shirley attracted national attention by pushing the FEC to change election rules so that she could pay her babysitter from her campaign account since she would not have otherwise needed child care if not for running for office.

“I know it’s a privilege to run, but it shouldn’t be for the privileged,” Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) said. “We need to make sure we remove these barriers so that women can run, so that low-income women can run, so that parents of young kids have the ability to run, because we need their voices at the table. We need their voices here in Sacramento as we create public policy that impacts children.”

melody.gutierrez@latimes.com

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