Texas campaign contributions can now be used for child care

State & Regional

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas Ethics Commission voted to allow political candidates to pay for child care with campaign contributions.

The 7-0 vote means Wichita County Commissioner candidate Catie Robinson can expense child care costs to her campaign.

“It’s exciting to know that not only is it going to help me, but is potentially going to help a lot of other women and just parents in general in Texas who either are running or want to run for office,” Robinson said after the decision was handed down by the panel in Austin on Wednesday.

Robinson, a stay-at-home mother, first brought her kids, ages three and one, on the campaign trail with her in the Wichita Falls area. A supporter offered to help the democrat with child care by watching her children while she hosted and attended campaign events and met with community members, and others wanted to chip in to pay for care for the kids.

“Without child care as an option for campaign contributions it’s hard for people to run for office,” Robinson said earlier in the week.

Texas Election Code (Sec. 253.035) prohibits political contributions to candidates to be converted to personal use. Personal use is defined in the code as “a use that primarily furthers individual or family purposes not connected with the performance of duties or activities as a candidate for or holder of a public office.”

Robinson, who faced both support and questions about the child care funding, asked the commission for an advisory opinion on whether she and other candidates who are parents could expense child care costs to the campaign account.

The panel voted after approximately ten minutes of discussion between the seven present members.

“If it’s something that you’re doing because you’re campaigning you wouldn’t do otherwise, I think we could limit it to that,” commissioner Katie Kennedy said. “It may set off a slippery slope but we could confront that when we get to it.”

Recently-appointed commissioner Richard Schmidt said he could see “a number of ways this rule could be misused.”

Ethics lawyer Buck Wood agrees with Schmidt’s worries. He said the decision sets a dangerous precedent full of loophole opportunities for campaign expense reporting.

“I think the ethics commission really hasn’t thought this out,” Wood said Wednesday. “You get money to run for office, you don’t get money to pay for your personal expenses because you’re running for office.”

The Federal Election Commission issued a similar opinion in May, allowing federal candidates a to expense child care costs to their campaigns. This is the first time Texas has addressed this issue at the state level.

“It’s kind of just where the law is catching up with the times,” Robinson said.

Her opponent, republican incumbent for Precinct 4, Jeff Watt, initially criticized her filing, but changed his tune when the situation was clarified. He said he believed what can and cannot be covered with campaign contributions ought to be clear. He also said he expected the commission’s decision would allow more working moms to run for political office.

Robinson said she took a part-time job to put her kids in daycare, which took away the extra time she hoped to gain on the campaign. Following Wednesday’s decision, she said she would be able to cut back the hours on her part-time job to spend more time campaigning.

To watch the full Texas Ethics Commission meeting, click here.

Candidate for Wichita County Commissioner, Catie Robinson. Photo provided by Catie Robinson.
The Texas Ethics Commission meeting on June 27, 2018. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)

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