When Kimberly Dudik ran for her fourth term in the Montana House, state officials told her she could not use campaign money to pay for child care for her four young children.
She is now running for attorney general and is trying to visit a big chunk of the sprawling state, spending hours on the road. That means she needs even more help picking up her kids at school and day care when she’s away and her husband has a late night at the office.
“It just seems behind the times,” Dudik, whose family is living off her husband’s income and savings from her work as a lawyer. “When it was a man campaigning, the woman was traditionally the one to stay home and take care of the children. There is not someone home just taking care of the kids.”
Experts predict a large number of women will again run for office in 2020 like they did in 2018, and child care remains a hurdle for many of them.
A congressional candidate in New York successfully petitioned the Federal Election Commission in 2018 to allow campaign money to help cover child care costs. But it applies only to those running for federal office.
That leaves women in many states who are running for the Legislature, statewide positions like attorney general or local offices to find another way to pay for child care as they campaign, which often requires night and weekend work.
Only six states have laws specifically allowing campaign money to be used for child care. Five states are considering it. In most states, including Montana, the law is silent on the issue and up to interpretation by agencies or boards.
Agencies in at least nine states have allowed child care to be a campaign-related expense, but those decisions are not law and could be reversed.
Utah is among the states that passed a child care expense law, which went into effect last May.
Luz Escamilla was one of the first candidates to use it as she campaigned to become the first Latina mayor of Salt Lake City.
Escamilla had to take time off from her full-time banking job to knock on doors and shake hands as she made her case to voters.
Without a paycheck, it was hard to cover the cost of child care for her two youngest daughters. After the law was passed, she used about $1,500 in campaign cash over two months to help pay for it. The extra time she could spend campaigning helped propel her to a spot in the general election, though she lost in November.
“Full-time campaigning during the summer with toddlers, it makes it really difficult,” Escamilla said, adding of the law: “It was a great tool in our toolbox.”
Lawmakers in Minnesota added child care as an allowable expense in 2018, while Colorado, New York, New Hampshire and California passed laws in 2019.
Before Colorado allowed campaign cash to be used for child care, Amber McReynolds, a former chief elections official in Denver, was contemplating a bid for statewide office in 2017. The costs of child care were a considerable concern as a single mother of two young children.
For that and other reasons, McReynolds decided against running. “When we look at the statistics in terms of representatives in Congress or statewide office and you don’t see single moms in that category, that’s why,” said McReynolds, who’s CEO of a nonprofit.
“The circumstances are just that much more difficult when you are in politics,” she added.
The policy also can help fathers running for office in families where both parents work.
Jean Sinzdak, associate director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, said the record number of women who ran for office in 2018 has helped drive the issue. Still, lawmakers in a number of states have resisted the change.