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Political Candidates Can Use Campaign Funds To Pay For Childcare, FEC Rules

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Andrew Kerr Investigative Reporter
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Candidates for federal office can use campaign contributions to pay for childcare, the Federal Election Commission ruled Thursday in a landmark ruling.

The FEC ruled unanimously in favor of first-time candidate Liuba Grechen Shirley, a New York Democrat running for the House that has had to pay a babysitter $22 an hour for 17 hours a week while on the campaign trail.

Grechen Shirley, 36, argued in April that her babysitter expenses wouldn’t exist if she weren’t running for Congress. She had worked from home as a consultant prior to launching her bid for office and had no need for a babysitter to care for her 3-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son during the workday.

She started using funds from her campaign war chest in March to pay for her kids’ babysitter but planned to repay her campaign if the FEC didn’t rule in her favor.

FEC records indicate that Grechen Shirley has raised $326,575 since launching her campaign for Congress.

The FEC sided with Grechen Shirley, concluding that her childcare expenses “would not exist irrespective of your election campaign, and thus may be permissible paid with campaign funds.”

She hailed the FEC’s decision as a “game-changer.”

“I’m thrilled. It’s a game-changer,” Grechen Shirley said shortly after the FEC announced its decision. “I hope that this ruling today inspires more women to step up and run for office.”

But not all were thrilled with the outcome. Grechen Shirley’s Democratic primary opponent, DuWayne Gregory, argued in April that the constituents she seeks to represent can’t use campaign donations to pay for childcare, so why should she?

“We understand. Child care is a very real concern for lots and lots of families,” Gregory’s spokesman said. “But all those other families find a way to pay for childcare and they certainly don’t do it with political donations.”

FEC Vice Chair Ellen Weintraub stressed Thursday that there are limits to how candidates can divert campaign funds to pay for childcare. (RELATED: Dem FEC Commissioner Boarded Flight To Europe Before Receiving Approval)

“We’re not creating a wholesale carve out for childcare,” Weintraub said. “You still can’t use campaign funds for babysitting on date night, but to the extent that you need it and other candidates similarly situated in order to facilitate their campaign work, this answer, should we approve it, would allow campaign funds to be used for those expenses.”

Grechen Shirly had received letters of support from “26 members of Congress, a former presidential candidate (Hillary Clinton), two advocacy groups, and a law professor,” Weintraub said

“Denying M. Shirley’s request would … discourage young mothers from seeking elective office, and deprive parents of ordinary means of the opportunity to serve,” Clinton’s lawyers wrote in a letter to the FEC on behalf of the former presidential candidate.

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