Staff Columnist

Lower the bar for Iowa candidates

Child care should be an allowed campaign expense

A view of the rotunda between the House and Senate chambers on the 2nd floor of the Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa. (Gazette Archives)
A view of the rotunda between the House and Senate chambers on the 2nd floor of the Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa. (Gazette Archives)

State government should be in the business of removing barriers to opportunity, including those of Iowans who aspire to public service. Instead, a recent decision by the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board to disallow child care as a legitimate campaign expense keeps the bar too high for younger, non-traditional candidates.

The Iowa decision stands in contrast to a unanimous May opinion by the Federal Election Commission, which found child care expenses that did not exist before candidacy were valid uses of campaign funds. The question was raised by a New York congressional candidate, Liuba Grechen Shirley, who worked from home and had no such expenses before launching her campaign.

The decision was grounded in a 1995 FEC ruling that a Louisiana male candidate, Jim McCrery, who traveled to events with his wife could use campaign funds to pay for occasional child care expenses.

Texas, Alabama and Wisconsin have all changed laws to allow campaign money to be used for child care expenses.

Iowa should have followed suit after Reyma McCoy McDeid, a candidate for Iowa House District 38 who didn’t advance past the June primary, raised the question in May. Instead, the ethics board punted, saying the issue is “a policy decision best left to the Legislature.”

That would be the same Legislature that increasingly looks very different from Iowa’s population.

The average age in the Iowa Senate during the current General Assembly is 54. In the House it is 56. Yet the median age in Iowa for 2016 was 38. People age 21 and up can seek a seat in the Iowa House; age 25 and up can run for the Senate, although too few do.

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Millennials make up 30 percent of our population, but comprise five percent of the Legislature. Baby boomers, on the other hand, are 30 percent of state population, but 61 percent of the Legislature.

In addition, there are no minority members in the Senate chamber, and only six women. Although minorities comprise 14 percent of Iowa’s population, the House has only five black members, or 3 percent of the body. Women, 50 percent of the population, hold 28 of 100 House seats.

Such disconnects are attributable, in part, to ambiguous barriers that serve to discourage everyday Iowans from seeking public office.

After all, candidates and elected officials are allowed to use campaign funds for a variety of other expenses, including leasing a vehicle or reimbursing mileage. Candidates can rent post office boxes, pay bank fees and hire consultants. They reimburse themselves for travel expenses, including trips to other states for fundraising. Various membership dues and newspaper subscriptions are legally paid with campaign accounts. Candidates purchase food for themselves, volunteers and other elected officials.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars given to local candidates is ultimately transferred each year to state parties, county central committees or special partisan funds.

We shouldn’t need an act of the Legislature to honor what’s practical. Child care is a legitimate campaign expense, acknowledging it lowers the bar to public service.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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