Bill letting Utah candidates use campaign funds for child care sails through House committee

Elizabeth Payne, recently elected to the Murray City School Board, says she tapped into her campaign funds last year to travel all the way to D.C. for a candidate training.

It didn’t make sense to her that — because of some fuzziness in Utah’s law — she could draw on these funds to pay for the trip but not for the child care that would free her up to go on it. Instead, her husband had to use his vacation time so he could watch the couple’s kids while she was away, she said.

Payne on Tuesday testified in support of a proposal affirming that candidates can put their funds toward child care, telling a panel of lawmakers the measure could clear the way for parents of young kids to seek elected office.

“Allowing parents to use campaign funds for child care, we will see a more diverse field of candidates,” said Payne, mother of four young children.

This legislative session, Utah Reps. Craig Hall and Stephanie Pitcher introduced nearly identical proposals to clarify that child care is an allowable campaign expense, and they told a House committee that they’re jointly pushing forward with the version sponsored by Hall. The measure, HB129, sailed through the House Government Operations Committee with unanimous support Tuesday, setting it up for a vote on the chamber floor.

“There are so many wonderful individuals in this state, so many great leaders, and they shouldn’t be discouraged from running for office simply because they have child-care responsibilities,” Hall, R-West Valley City, said.

Utah law prohibits the personal use of campaign funds, and Hall has said the language is currently ambiguous about whether child-care expenses are restricted.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Pitcher, D-Salt Lake City, pointed out that the Federal Election Commission recently determined that a New York congressional candidate was permitted to pay her babysitter out of her campaign coffers. The Democratic candidate, Liuba Grechen Shirley, told The Washington Post that the ruling was a “game-changer” that could inspire more women to pursue elected office.

The bill sponsored by Pitcher and Hall is gender-neutral and stipulates that campaign funds can only be used for child-care costs incurred while a candidate is working to win votes.

Pitcher, a newcomer to the Legislature and mother of three young children, said her campaign last year could have benefitted from the bill. And Rep. Patrice Arent, whose legislative service began in 1997, said she’s also familiar with the difficulty of balancing parenting and candidacy.

“I was there. When I first started campaigning, I was nursing my youngest child, and believe me, I spent a lot of money on child care,” Arent, D-Millcreek, told fellow committee members. “I think this is long overdue.”