The Case for Using Campaign Funds for Childcare: A Former Virginia Candidate’s Story

In 2019, I ran for Virginia’s state senate. I am a mom of two children and at the time, they were ages 10 and five. At the height of the campaign, my youngest started Kindergarten and my oldest began a new school in fifth grade. During most of the campaign, I was working full-time. Consequently, my children were in after-school care, private preschool, and summer camps that we paid for out of pocket. However, in late August, it was apparent that if I were going to have a chance at winning, I needed to take an unplanned, unpaid leave of absence from my job and work full-time on the campaign. This also meant that I could no longer afford childcare and needed to balance being a full-time mom with being a full-time candidate. 

I am one of many moms who have run for office and could have benefited greatly from using my campaign funds towards childcare expenses. Yet, in many states, this is not the law. In fact, in Virginia, one can legally use campaign funds towards many personal expenses – like buying office supplies or meeting your campaign staff at a local coffee shop – yet, it’s frowned upon to use those same funds for childcare for minor children. This unspoken expectation directly and disproportionately impacts mothers seeking political office. 

As the national Programs Director with ReflectUS, a Coalition of the nine leading women’s representation organizations, we are collectively building a movement to remove such systemic barriers that inhibit women from seeking elected office. Through our “From the Ground Up” state network, the ReflectUS Coalition is particularly focusing on the barriers to elected and appointed office facing working-class women. If being a candidate without childcare support is difficult for women candidates with economic resources and familial support, it is nearly impossible for women without those support systems. In Virginia, childcare costs are among the most expensive in the country. Additionally, families across the U.S. pay an average of $847 to $990 per month per child, depending on age. Hence, childcare is a substantial expense for most families’ budgets. Fortunately, local and state organizations are responding to this injustice.

ReflectUS has partnered with Virginia Organizing and the League of Women Voters of Virginia. Both of these organizations are advocating for systemic changes to eliminate the barriers to political participation and threats to representative democracy. As a result of these and other efforts, such as the incredible initiative of VoteMama Foundation and ongoing systemic change work of ReflectUS Coalition member RepresentWomen, among others, Virginia was poised to pass House Bill 1952 (HB1952) before the end of the 2021 session in February. The bill, which has been re-referred to a Senate committee after passing unanimously in the House of Delegates, clarifies that candidates may not use campaign funds for personal expenditures, with one exception – paying for childcare while campaigning.   

Naming childcare as an allowable campaign expense is an important part of this legislation, and a step in the right direction. One of the leading national advocates on this issue, VoteMama founder and CEO Liuba Grechen Shirley, talks often about creating a new norm of childcare as a campaign expense for parents running for office. She states: 

“I petitioned the Federal Election Commission and became the first woman in history to receive federal approval to spend campaign funds on childcare. This decision paved the way for working parents to run for office.”

HB1952 ultimately failed this year. Had it passed, this legislation would have created an explicit understanding that support for childcare is an acceptable campaign expense. This bill, and acceptance that candidates need to pay for childcare to effectively run for office, would have been incredibly helpful for me as a candidate and would greatly reduce one of the barriers for women running for office. Unfortunately, only a handful of states have passed legislation allowing the use of campaign funds for childcare expenses. 

When I ran for office, it became clear to me that in order for us to move towards a representative democracy, our society must normalize motherhood. Many voters, for instance, did not want to be reminded that I was a mom of small children with real needs – they wanted the young family campaign aesthetic without the realities of parenting. I am convinced this internalized and subtle sexism is the reason paying for childcare with campaign funds is often disparaged. This reality is confirmed by the way our society has pushed women to the side during the COVID-19 crisis. As Melinda Gates notes, “Here in the U.S., one in four women has already considered downshifting her career or leaving the workforce altogether because of new caregiving responsibilities at home.”

Normalizing childcare expenditures as part of political campaigns is a good start to making elected office more accessible for more women in diverse circumstances. ReflectUS is working towards breaking down these barriers, and I’m proud to be on the forefront of this movement. 

Amanda Pohl is the Programs Director for ReflectUS, a national, nonpartisan coalition working to increase the number of women in office and achieve equal representation across the racial, ideological, ethnic, and geographic spectrum.

Change Was Her: An interview with Erin Loos Cutraro​, She Should Run

Change Was Her: An interview with Erin Loos Cutraro, She Should Run

What inspired you to start She Should Run?

Every woman I’ve had the honor of working within politics has tirelessly come to the table to make her community, state, or country a better place.  And her ability to find her way—to push through the doubt, through the challenges—to that leadership role should be the norm as opposed to the exception. Our country needs smart, diverse voices and perspectives. And that’s what She Should Run is all about, a starting place that makes it easy for women from all walks of life to explore how they can bring their unique experiences to the table to make their communities stronger.

Who do you think of when you reflect on those women who shaped your life? Did any of them serve in elected office?

I consider myself fortunate to have grown up with many women who were positive influences in my life. And while none were elected leaders, they were all changemakers in different ways. My mom, for instance, worked full time and raised me and my sister as a mostly single parent. She was (and still is) a pro problem solver in all things. I also think of my best friend’s mom who was always involved in our schools advocating for the best learning environment possible and created safe spaces for us to just be kids. When I reflect on my childhood, I realize both of them were responsive, persistent, and anticipated the needs of those around them. That’s the kind of person we want in elected office – those who make the world go round as part of their nature. 

What advice do you have for someone who is already making change in her community but not yet thinking of running for office?

As the wise Rosa Parks once said, “To bring about change, you must not be afraid to take the first step. We will fail when we fail to try.” The countless women organizing for change in their communities, those who serve on parent-teacher associations, the teachers, nurses, and home health workers – all of these women aren’t afraid of taking that first step to making change and I encourage them to think about how they could amplify their impact by running for office. 

What makes you hopeful about the future?

With a new generation of women leaders, we can create a government truly reflective of the people who get the work done. To build a better future for our daughters. So I ask, who is that woman you know doing the work already? Is it you? Change is here and it is her.

Political Leadership Among Republican Women, WPLN

Political Leadership Among Republican Women, WPLN

Political scholars and commentators referred to 2018 as another “Year of the Woman” because of the unprecedented accomplishments women saw in public office. Yet in 2020, many of 2018’s records were broken, and women reached even higher milestones in American politics. 

More women than ever before ran for office, including the highest number of all-women Congressional races in the history of our nation. For years, the majority of women running for office were Democrats. Yet in 2020, a significant number of their Republican counterparts ran for office—and won. A historic number of Republican women will be representing their communities. Of the 143 women that will serve in the next Congress, 35 of them will be Republican. 

Reaching and exceeding these milestones is critical to the work we’re doing to move toward a more representative democracy. When center- and right-leaning women are elected to serve, they bring important perspectives that are missing from national dialogues and conversations. A 2019 Gallup poll found that 68% of women identified their political ideology as conservative or moderate. Yet, two out of three women elected to state and federal level identify as Democrats. Supporting women across the political spectrum ensures that ideologically, socioeconomically, and geographically diverse perspectives are represented—and pushes our country toward better policy outcomes for all Americans.

When in positions of political leadership, center- and right-leaning women advocate for educational reforms and changes to policies that affect women, children and the entire family. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, women lawmakers on the right focused on programs to specifically support small businesses, farmers, and families that are struggling. They also work together and across the aisle on a variety of issues. For instance, Republican U.S. Senator Joni Ernst has been championing paid parental leave solutions, and U.S. Senator Susan Collins was joined by colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass legislation protecting dementia patients from elder abuse. 

Likewise, Republican women leaders have been instrumental in shaping both U.S. foreign and domestic policy through appointed and elected positions. Secretary Condoleezza Rice was the first African-American woman and first woman to hold the role of National Security Advisor, as well as the first African-American to serve as Secretary of State. Among her many accomplishments, she was able to negotiate a crucial ceasefire between Russia and Georgia in 2008, which ended hostility in the region and avoided escalation. Secretary Elaine Chao was the first Asian-American woman to be appointed to a President’s cabinet. She has served in the administration of four U.S. Presidents. Former Governor Christine Todd Whittman remains the only woman to have served as the governor of New Jersey and later was appointed to serve as the Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Senator Elizabeth Dole, who ran the Red Cross and provided humanitarian aid to people worldwide, served as North Carolina’s first woman U.S. Senator. 

The 117th Congress is the most diverse Congress in history, and a number of women on the right are continuing to make history. Iowa and South Carolina are sending their first Republican women to Congress. The first Iranian-American woman was elected to Congress. The first three Korean-Americans were also elected—including two Republicans. These accomplishments and more emphasize that having women from diverse ideological backgrounds in leadership is crucial as we work towards a more reflective democracy.

Women’s Public Leadership Network (WPLN) understands the importance of supporting center- and right-leaning women as they seek public office and obtain political leadership. Through online resources, grant-making efforts, and a network of state-based training partners throughout the United States, WPLN works to educate, organize, and inspire women to seek public office. As demonstrated this past year, having a support network and adequate resources is critical to a woman’s success in seeking public office.  

In 2020, WPLN worked to remove the barriers women face when seeking political leadership roles in a number of ways. First, WPLN supported 11 organizations training center- and right-leaning women seeking public office through grants totaling $500,000—equipping each of these organizations to meet the unique needs of women in their respective states. Second, during training programs, WPLN works to remove barriers for women with families by providing childcare at every in-person training at no cost to participants. 

WPLN joined the ReflectUS coalition because of the shared belief that when women are elected and appointed at all levels of government, our nation is better served. WPLN celebrates the accomplishments of women serving in elected and appointed roles at every level and emphasizes how critical it is for women to support other women as we build a more representative democracy. Republican women won elections across the country and gains in Congress in 2020, and ReflectUS celebrates this movement toward gender parity at the highest levels of government. As we look ahead to 2021, we know there is still much work to be done, and we are thrilled by this significant step forward. 

Larissa Martinez is the Co-founder and President of Women’s Public Leadership Network and Board member of the ReflectUS Coalition. 

Tiffany Gardner is the CEO of ReflectUS

ReflectUS is a national, nonpartisan coalition working to increase the number of women in office and achieve equal representation across the racial, ideological, ethnic, and geographic spectrum.

A Government By The People: The Need For Working Class Women’s Political Leadership, IGNITE

A Government By The People: The Need For Working-Class Women's Political Leadership, IGNITE

In the Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln famously extolled a “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Yet, the history of U.S. political leadership has often fallen short of being by the people, especially as it relates to political leadership from working class communities.

Many of our nation’s elected officials, for instance, come from privileged backgrounds, enabling them to run for office with a vast network of donors and political connections. In particular, more than half of sitting Congressional members in 2020 were millionaires and in 2014, The Atlantic sounded the alarm of out-of-touch politicians making policy decisions based on beliefs, rather than lived experiences, about the realities facing their working class constituents. Too many of our political leaders are far removed from the everyday hardships facing Americans living near and in poverty. Given this disconnect, they often propose policies that don’t meet the needs of working class communities. Such policy making can have the greatest adverse impacts when it comes to working class women and their families.  

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the current poverty rate is 10.5 percent; yet, the poverty rate for women is 11.5 percent. Additionally, women face wage inequality, job mobility stagnation, and the unpaid labor of childrearing and homekeeping. Consequently, research shows that women and female-headed households comprise 50 percent of the individuals on government assistance programs, while married couples are only 14.7 percent, and male-led households are 29.5 percent of those utilizing these programs. One study even noted that economic gender parity was 257 years away. The COVID-19 pandemic has made these economic disparities even worse. 

The global pandemic has exacerbated the structural inequities already in our system. Across the nation, there are photos of bread lines and story after story of hospital overcrowding. Rural communities, in particular, are being hit hardest by the pandemic and public health experts are predicting a bleak winter. The economic fall-out from the health crisis and its particularly devastating impact on women’s financial forecasts are just beginning to be appreciated. For instance, we are living in the middle of the first-ever women’s economic recession where women are exiting the workforce at alarming rates, felt most by women working in low-wage jobs. 

In 2020, women were forced to leave jobs to care for children when schools closed; became unemployed after seeing service industry jobs disappear; and made difficult decisions between being the primary caregivers at home while simultaneously working on the frontlines of healthcare during the global pandemic. These women were already facing staggering wage and wealth gaps prior to this crisis, even more so for Black, Indigenous, and Latina women. These glaring disparities require that the women facing these barriers possess the political leadership necessary to impact change. Yet, while women represent a disproportionate share of those in poverty, women also hold far fewer positions of government power and leadership to effect the change necessary to reverse these trends.

Fortunately, we are beginning to see more Congressional members from modest means – many of them women. For instance, one recently elected Republican Congresswoman described her experience of going from homelessness to Congress in a decade as an uniquely American success story. Additionally, a recently re-elected Democratic Congresswoman was the first in her family to go to college, where she had to work throughout her educational journey. Throughout her campaign, she discussed how her community college education inspired her to attend law school. While these are stories to commend, they are unfortunately few and far between. More needs to be done to ensure our political leadership is truly reflective of our economic diversity – especially as it relates to working class women.   

Thankfully, IGNITE National is seeing an incredible uptick in the number of young women and girls who are interested in political leadership and, in particular, those who want to harness their political power to address societal inequalities. Young women’s commitment and dedication to access political power has not ceased during COVID-19 but in fact has accelerated as they think about the connections between poverty and the pandemic. IGNITE women across the country remain eager to serve in a myriad of political positions with growing interest to serve on police commissions. Hence, IGNITE National is working with women from directly impacted communities to prepare them for various forms of political leadership.

ReflectUS, the national coalition of nine of the leading women’s representation organizations, of which IGNITE National is a member, is building a “From the Ground Up” State Network, aimed at building political leadership among working class women. Harnessing the expertise of the ReflectUS Coalition Members, we’re building this network with local, state-based and community-based organizations across the ideological spectrum to ensure that women with lower incomes can take hold of political leadership and begin addressing these disparities through elected office. As we continue to meet with communities across the country and, in particular, local women leaders, we see the vital need of ensuring political leadership for all women.

Working together, we can ensure that more working class women are running for office, getting elected and appointed, and have the tools needed to create the lasting change they want to see in their communities. Our nation was made to be governed by the people and that’s exactly what we intend to accomplish. 

Anne Moses is the Founder and President of IGNITE National and a Board member of the ReflectUS Coalition. Tiffany Gardner is the CEO of ReflectUS

ReflectUS is a national, nonpartisan coalition working to increase the number of women in office and achieve equal representation across the racial, ideological, ethnic, and geographic spectrum.

APAICS and LatinasRepresent: Administration Appointments Must Reflect All of Us

APAICS and LatinasRepresent: Administration Appointments Must Reflect All of Us

Throughout our nation’s history, women of color have consistently been shut out of the halls of power, with few exceptions. This lack of visibility has helped perpetuate stereotypes that political service is not a viable career path for most women. Yet, members of the ReflectUS Coalition are fighting against these very notions. In particular, Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) and LatinasRepresent are empowering Asian and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women and Latina women, respectively, to ensure that more women from diverse backgrounds are reflected in political leadership.

When our daughters see themselves as judges, chiefs of staff, and cabinet members, a world of new possibilities opens up for them. That’s why APAICS and LatinasRepresent are teaming up on December 8, 2020 to present, “The Appointee Process: Perspectives from Latina & AAPI Women”. The event will prepare Latina and AAPI women to engage in the presidential appointments process. 

President-elect Joe Biden announced that he wants his administration to be the most diverse in the history of the United States. He demonstrated that commitment early by choosing Kamala Harris, the first Black and South Asian woman to serve as his Vice President. Most recently, the President-elect announced an all-female senior White House communications team, with several of the most senior staff being women of color. Yet, there is still more work to do.  

Latinx people are the second largest racial or ethnic group in the U.S. Although Latinx people are more than 18 percent of the U.S. population, they only make up about 1 percent of elected officials at all levels and about 8 percent of people in the federal workforce. In addition, Latinx people only account for a fraction of state and presidential political appointments, which is why the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) has urged the President-elect to appoint at least five qualified Latinx individuals to Cabinet-level positions and to ensure that Latinx people make up at least 20 percent of the thousands of available positions within the federal government, including advisory boards, commissions and other bodies. 

This year, Asian American voting increased by 300 percent, more than any other voting block and AAPI women will make up over 50 percent of the AAPI Members of Congress starting in the 117th Congress. Recently, APAICS joined with AAPI Members of Congress to urge the President-elect to choose AAPIs for at least seven percent of his cabinet level picks to truly reflect the diversity of America. Asian Americans are about 6 percent of the population (and growing) yet represent a fraction of elected and appointed positions in government.

As important as it is to highlight Latina and AAPI voices for the purpose of representation and visibility, it is equally important that we honor and acknowledge the need for greater diversity of our communities in presidential appointments. APAICS and LatinasRepresent are urging the Biden-Harris administration to make appointments that truly reflect the uniqueness of our cultures. For instance, we want to see Afro-Latina, Indigenous-Latina and LGBTQ+ Latinas represented. We also want to see parts of the AAPI community represented who are historically underrepresented, including Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and Southeast Asians. We are thrilled that a South Asian American will be in the White House and know it is just as important that Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are represented through the appointments process. No culture is a monolith and we look forward to a variety of our cultural expressions being represented in the Biden-Harris administration through appointments. This form of visibility normalizes our leadership in our communities and in the communities of those around us. It also normalizes leadership of  Latina and AAPI women in political spaces during a critical time in our nation’s history.

In addition to hosting a webinar demystifying the appointments process on December 8, 2020, APAICS has also created a resume bank for those interested in pursuing an appointment with the Biden-Harris administration and LatinasRepresent is working with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) to encourage and support Latinas to pursue presidential appointments within the administration. To learn more about how to apply for positions, visit the Biden-Harris transition website, or submit your resume to the CHC Resume Bank for Political Appointments or the APAICS Resume Bank for Political Appointments.

APAICS and LatinasRepresent will continue to call on the Biden-Harris administration and all future administrations to increase the number of women in appointed positions. We will especially call for greater representation of Latina and Asian American women to reflect the true diversity of our country. 

Madalene Mielke, is the President and CEO of Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies and Chairperson of the Board of Directors for ReflectUS.

Stephanie Lopez is the Program Manager of LatinasRepresent, an initiative led by National Hispanic Leadership Agenda. LatinasRepresent is a member of the ReflectUS coalition.

ReflectUS is a national, nonpartisan coalition working to increase the number of women in office and achieve equal representation across the racial, ideological, ethnic, and geographic spectrum.