Oklahoma might allow candidates to use campaign cash for childcare

More than half of all states already allow candidates to use campaign funds for babysitting and day care costs

By: - September 8, 2023 5:30 am
The Oklahoma Ethics Commission office is pictured.

The Oklahoma Ethics Commission will consider allowing candidates to use campaign funds to cover the costs of childcare. (Photo by Janelle Stecklein/Oklahoma Voice)

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Ethics Commission might allow candidates to use campaign funds to cover babysitting, day care or other childcare costs.

Sen. Jessica Garvin, who asked the commission to permit dependent care expenditures, said allowing candidates to use campaign funds to cover childcare costs incurred as a result of running for office would make it easier for young parents — particularly mothers — to seek elected office.

In a Thursday meeting, the five-member panel unanimously agreed to explore the issue. The Ethics Commission will hold a public hearing to solicit feedback on Garvin’s request, although no date has been set.

Such campaign expenses are not allowed under the state’s current campaign finance rules, Ethics Commission Director Ashley Kemp said.


Garvin, R-Duncan, introduced legislation this year that would allow candidates to use campaign funds for childcare expenses, but her bill stalled in the Senate.

A mother of three, Garvin said she introduced the bill after a friend mentioned that campaigning for city council would be a challenge. The friend was struggling to find someone to babysit her young kids because her family lived outside Oklahoma.

Garvin said she often had to rely on her support network of family and friends to babysit her children when she was running for the state Senate and spending long periods of time talking to voters in her district.

“I firmly believe that there’s no reason that someone should have childcare as a barrier to enter the workforce or enter into public service,” Garvin said. “You shouldn’t have to pick between being a parent and having a successful career.”

A national group focused on getting more mothers elected to political office urged Garvin to ask the Ethics Commission to examine the issue.

The Vote Mama Foundation has helped 29 states authorize the use of campaign funds for childcare or dependent care through a mix of legislation, ethics commission rulings, or advisory opinions from secretaries of state or attorneys general.

“If you can buy a tuxedo with your campaign dollars or gala tickets or, in some states, even a new car … you should be able to use your campaign funds to cover childcare expenses,” said Sarah Hague, Vote Mama’s chief program officer.

Vote Mama’s founder, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2018, helped change federal election rules so candidates can use their campaign funds for childcare costs. Now, her group is pushing for all states to follow suit.

Some states have allowed campaign cash to be used for dependent care, which Hague called the “gold standard.” Dependent care would not only help candidates with children, but also those who are caring for aging parents or an adult child with a disability, she said.

Hague said changing campaign finance rules could eliminate some barriers that keep mothers from running for office.

Only 4% of Oklahoma lawmakers in 2022 were moms with kids under age 18, she said. Vote Mama’s research ranks Oklahoma’s Legislature at No. 31 for the number of female legislators with minor children.

“There are so many caregivers that aren’t even considering running for office because of the financial barrier,” Hague said. “If they knew that they could use the funds they raise for those caregiving expenses, they might consider throwing their hat in the ring.”


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Carmen Forman
Carmen Forman

Carmen covers state government, politics and health care from Oklahoma City. A Norman native, she previously worked in Arizona and Virginia before she began reporting on the Oklahoma Capitol.