One of the biggest problems with campaign finance laws in Utah is that they are a bit…well…loosey-goosy. In short, all a candidate needs to prove is that an expense made was “for a political purpose.” This has resulted in candidates buying themselves entirely new wardrobes, cars, trips, and more – indeed, the most tenuous connections have survived challenges because an item happened to be used on a campaign.
However, that isn’t to say that the legitimacy of some expenditures hasn’t been challenged. One area of contention nationally has been the question of whether childcare is a legitimate use of campaign funds. Back in May, Liuba Grechen Shirley, Democratic candidate for New York’s second House District asked the Federal Election Commission (who rules on such issues) if childcare was a valid campaign expense. Shirley argued that, as a mother, she couldn’t reasonably be expected to run for Congress without childcare and, therefore, a valid expense. The FEC, in a unanimous decision, found that, yes, childcare is an acceptable expense.
Cut to freshman lawmaker Stephanie Pitcher (Democrat – Salt Lake City) who, with HB 102 – Campaign Funds Uses Amendments which, as you have probably guessed in the lead-up to this paragraph, is proposing that Utah law clarifies that childcare is specifically allowed as a campaign expense.
Despite the fact that just about everything is covered under current state campaign finance laws, Pitcher is still making a very important policy statement that will encourage more women to run for local and state office if successful. By explicitly stating that childcare is allowed, it ensures that there is no ambiguity in the law.
Though it would be nice to assume that such a straight forward proposal will fly through the legislature, we must never forget Gehrke’s Law (named after Salt Lake Tribune columnist, Robert Gehrke). It states that “no bill will get as much scrutiny and as many ‘what-ifs’ as one that might affect the Legislature.” Campaign finance, of course, is at the heart of becoming a legislator, so Pitcher had better strap in for mind-numbingly painful questions from her old, male colleagues who have only heard of childcare in the abstract as they ask questions such as “If a lobbyist offers to watch my child for free, do I have to report that?” or “what if you paid your husband to watch the children?” failing, of course, to remember the role of the courts and their role to, you know, interpret laws.
Meanwhile, let’s all wait for the lawmaker that says “should a mother of small children even be running for office?” as the rest of Utah simultaneously sighs and shakes their head.
In the end, Pitcher has a solid proposal that will make our democracy more accessible to more people. Who knows how many candidates will be able to take advantage of it, but simply having it on the books will encourage more people to run which, in the end, makes for a stronger electoral process.
To contact Representative Pitcher, Click Here or call 385-272-8032
Impact on the Average Utahn – 0 | Need for Legislation – 4 | Lemon Score – 0
Overall Grade – A