State Election Officials Draw Fire for New Child Care Exclusion

(CN) – A former candidate for the Connecticut House of Representatives took election regulators to court Friday for changing the rules so that moms like her can no longer use campaign funds for child care.

Filed in Bridgeport Superior Court as a petition for administrative appeal, the suit by Caitlin Clarkson Pereira says the April move by the State Elections Enforcement Commission “is unconstitutionally discriminatory against women in effect without serving any legitimate purpose.”

Pereira says the rule change followed a query by her over the summer to use clean campaign funds to help pay for child care while she was canvassing door to door in Fairfield.

“When I submitted my written request for an opinion last July, I never imagined that we would end up taking SEEC to court,” Clarkson Pereira said in a email. “Since the Federal Elections Commission and a number of states far less progressive than Connecticut had approved the requests brought in front of them, I couldn’t think of a reason that we wouldn’t do the same; I still can’t.”

Composed entirely of men, the State Elections Enforcement Commission adopted the rule change in April, saying it’s not their place to decide whether public campaign funds can be used to cover child care expenses.

The unanimous ruling specifies that privately raised campaign funds may generally be spent to pay for child care costs, but candidates participating in the landmark Citizens Election Program can not spend any money on child care once they qualify for the clean election grant.

David Rosen, of David Rosen & Associates in New Haven, is representing Clarkson Pereira in her suit.

“Caitlin is calling on the law to make elections more fair and more equal,” Rosen said. “The modest correction she is looking for will be an important step in that direction and for her to bring her case today is a very good way to mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Brown against Board of Education, May 17, 1954, 65 years ago.”

A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, which would be representing the commission in the lawsuit, declined comment because of the pending litigation.

Clarkson Pereira has received a lot of support for her efforts from national figures, including Federal Election Commission Chair Ellen Weintraub.

In a letter of support, Weintraub noted that the use of campaign funds for child care is protected by federal campaign laws.

“You still can’t use campaign funds for babysitting on date night,” Weintraub said. “But if those funds are spent on childcare to expand the time that candidates are available to campaign, those childcare expenses directly further the candidate’s campaign for office. In fact, dollar for dollar, childcare may be among the most efficacious expenses any campaign can incur.”

Former Congressional candidate Liuba Gretchen Shirley, the candidate who first brought the issue up to the FEC, wrote a letter of support as well. “Running for office takes a huge toll on a family’s budget, especially while raising children, and there is a reason there are so many millionaires and so few mothers of young children in elected office,” Shirley said.

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