Capitol Alert

How can California elect more women? Let campaigns pay for child care costs, lawmakers say

How paying for child care with campaign funds would help women candidates

Assemblywoman Bianca Rubio, D-Baldwin Park, explains why a bill allowing candidates to pay for child care expenses with campaign funds would help her.
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Assemblywoman Bianca Rubio, D-Baldwin Park, explains why a bill allowing candidates to pay for child care expenses with campaign funds would help her.

Blanca Rubio put 16 names on her emergency contact form so that family and friends could pick up her two children from school and take them to activities while she was running for her Los Angeles-area Assembly district.

Buffy Wicks, a newly-elected assemblywoman from the East Bay, lugged her breast pump around to events last year so she could feed her infant daughter on the campaign trail.

“We want to be very responsive to our voters ... and it’s difficult when you have a family,” Wicks, an Oakland Democrat, said. “Sometimes in order to fight for change, you need a little help changing the diaper.”

That could get easier if California lawmakers pass Assembly Bill 220, which would allow state and local candidates and elected officials to use campaign funds for child care expenses. Assemblyman Rob Bonta, an Alameda Democrat who announced the measure on Wednesday, said it would reduce barriers for parents, particularly women, to run and help improve gender parity in public office.

“It’s a pretty simple idea, but it’s a powerful one,” Bonta said.

There are 36 women serving in the 120-member California Legislature, a 20 percent increase from last session after more than a decade of steady declines. Advocates for electing more women said it’s important not just for the sake of fairness, but also so that policymakers are more reflective of the state as a whole.

“There’s a really important voice by having all women at the table — young women, low-income women — to have the California Legislature look like California,” said Amber Maltbie, a political attorney and past chair of Emerge California, a training program for Democratic women candidates.

Bonta has yet to determine what limitations should be placed on the proposal, like how much of their campaign funds candidates could use on child care and who could be paid. Those discussions are likely to take place in the months ahead as the bill moves through the legislative process.

The Federal Election Commission last year ruled that federal candidates can use campaign funds for child care costs that result from running for office, but states vary in their approach. Alabama allows spending on child care if it’s tied to a specific campaign event, while Connecticut elections officials are facing a challenge to their decision against the practice.

California law does not explicit allow or prohibit the use of campaign funds for child care. Parking tickets and security systems are among the permitted expenses.

Rubio, a Baldwin Park Democrat and a single mother, said coordinating rides for her children took a lot of time and favors. Removing that concern for candidates would allow women to run for office on a more even playing field.

“Don’t let the family situation be the barrier,” she said.

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