March 12-18 is Sunshine Week, an annual celebration aimed at promoting transparency. This story is part of a series highlighting OpenSecrets’ work to shine a light on key areas related to money in politics at the state and federal level.
Federal candidates reported using campaign funds to cover over $280,000 in childcare expenses during the 2022 midterm election cycle, a 17% increase from the 2020 election cycle, a new OpenSecrets analysis found.
The Federal Election Commission announced childcare is a legitimate use of campaign funds in 2018. Since then, more candidates have spent more money on childcare every election cycle, according to OpenSecrets’ analysis.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D–Calif.) spent more on childcare than any other federal candidate during the 2022 election cycle, more than tripling his 2020 childcare expenses from $28,637 to $87,000. Lisa Tucker, a spokesperson for Swalwell’s campaign, chalked up the change to the birth of Swalwell’s third child, an increase in travel and less childcare help from family members.
“The fact that we can now pay for childcare for him to go out and campaign on behalf of himself and other members definitely had a big impact,” Tucker told OpenSecrets. “His wife works full-time. She has a very full schedule as well, so it really freed him up to be able to do the work he needs to do on the campaign side.”
More than $17,000 of Swalwell’s childcare payments were made after the 2022 election ended in November. Tucker said this was a result of post-election campaign events and retroactive payments made for earlier childcare.
Sixteen men and 12 women used congressional campaign funds for childcare, each spending an average of $10,000. Without Swalwell, the average drops down to $7,200, closer to 2020’s average of $6,300.
Overall, male candidates spent 1.9 times more on childcare than women in 2022, though Swalwell’s spending alone more than accounts for the difference.
Last summer, the FEC rejected Swalwell’s request to use campaign funds for childcare when campaigning for other political candidates or at the request of foreign governments. The request caused a stir at the FEC, with Commissioner Trey Trainor calling it “abhorrent that Congressman Swalwell would have such a young child and want to leave them in the care of someone else for a weeklong trip overseas.” Commissioners Shana Broussard and Ellen Weintraub admonished Trainor for his comments.
As OpenSecrets previously reported, the 2018 FEC advisory opinion authorizing campaign funds to be used for childcare while campaigning was prompted by a request from former New York congressional candidate Liuba Grechen Shirley.
“It’s a small structural change, but it has the ability to completely transform the political landscape,” Shirley told OpenSecrets.
After losing her 2018 race, Shirley founded Vote Mama, which works to break down barriers that hinder the political participation of mothers. The Vote Mama Foundation is the research and advocacy arm of the organization while Voter Mama Lobby pushes for policy change and the Vote Mama PAC focuses on electing Democratic mothers.
“We support these incredible women while they’re running,” Shirley said. “And then once they get into office, we work with them to pass the legislation that they’re working on as well.”
Katie Darling, who unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. House in Louisiana as a Democrat in 2022, put motherhood at the forefront of her campaign. One of her campaign ads featured clips of herself giving birth to her son.
“I got on the radar of a lot of people, including Vote Mama. They reached out and were excited about my campaign and told me that I could use some campaign funds for childcare expenses,” Darling said in an interview with OpenSecrets.
Darling spent $2,200 in 2022 campaign funds on childcare. She lost to incumbent Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) in the midterms.
Kaylee Peterson, a Democratic candidate who ran for a U.S. House seat in Idaho in 2022, spent about $5,000 on childcare during her campaign. Peterson told OpenSecrets that she did not know about the FEC ruling until later in the election cycle.
“When I started my campaign, it was insurmountable,” Peterson said. “I was not able to travel, I was not able to get a lot of the work done until we found that that was something that I could do with our campaign contributions.”
Though she lost her race, Peterson said she was glad to have run and used her campaign to represent people who are often left out of the political process.
“The other millennial moms and families that I know are struggling to make it through,” she said. “The insanely high cost of rent and cost of living plus childcare is often enough to consume someone’s entire income.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) does not have children, but her 2022 reelection campaign reported spending $300 for the childcare of Ivet Contreras, then-spokesperson for Ocasio-Cortez’s reelection campaign.
“We feel like this is fully applicable with current regulations,” a campaign spokesperson told OpenSecrets. Ocasio-Cortez previously said in a 2019 tweet that she is “testing new childcare policies on the campaign by covering childcare expenses” for her staff.
The FEC is scheduled to have a hearing later this month to consider broadening the use of campaign funds further to pay for candidates’ compensation “including salaries, health insurance premiums, and dependent care costs.”
Methodology: OpenSecrets analyzed all reported expenditures during the 2018, 2020 and 2022 election cycles with descriptions containing “child care,” “childcare” or “babysit.”
Committees Researcher Andrew Mayersohn contributed to this report.