Do you need a babysitter to watch your kids while you campaign for public office? That’s now considered a valid campaign expense in Kansas.
The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission said in an 8-1 vote Wednesday that campaign funds, such as donations, may be used to pay for child care. However, that child care must be directly related to campaigning or serving in office.
Commission member Jerome Hellmer said the change could help level the playing field and make it easier for parents to run for office.
“If we make it more difficult for someone to seek a public office and to serve simply because they are a parent,” he said, “that is a concern.”
It’s a situation Democratic state Rep. Eileen Horn has dealt with. Running and holding office includes many of the challenges working parents face. Horn said serving as a lawmaker also requires working early mornings and late evenings.
“That’s when a lot of community events happen, especially evenings and weekends,” she said. “In order to connect with your constituents and be a good public servant, you attend those events.”
Horn and her husband have two boys, a baby and a 3-year-old.
“Often, I can bring my kids, and that helps a little bit, but the 10-month-old doesn’t like to sit still for very long at all,” Horn said. “So we have a list of about a half a dozen babysitters on constant rotation.”
She said the long hours are already a barrier for some people to run for and serve in public office. The cost of child care can be another barrier, considering the salary lawmakers make.
Legislators in Kansas make $88 per day of the session, plus another $144 per day to cover expenses. They also have a retirement package. In a normal 90-day session, the salary and expenses allowance would total just under $21,000.
Horn welcomed the ethics commission decision and said she may look into using campaign funds for child care in the future.
“I’m thrilled,” she said. “I think we really need to work hard to make public service something that young people and that families can do more easily.”
Horn replaced another lawmaker, John Wilson, who has two children and stepped down last year because he said his time was being divided between the Legislature, his career and his family.
Ethics Commission Executive Director Mark Skoglund said staff drafted the change after receiving multiple inquiries about the issue, including from women running or holding office.
The Federal Election Commission issued a similar decision earlier this year.
“We utilized that as our guide in writing the opinion,” Skoglund said.
Skoglund said Wednesday’s decision is narrow and doesn’t open the door to other uses of campaign funding.
“Legitimate campaign expenditures,” Skoglund said, “is a fairly strictly limited area.”
Corrected: This story originally listed the wrong vote total for the ethics commission.
Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda.
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