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SC House approves letting candidates use campaign donations for childcare


SC House approves letting candidates use campaign donations for childcare

Apr 09, 2024 | 7:10 pm ET
By Abraham Kenmore
SC House approves letting candidates use campaign donations for childcare
State Rep. Spencer Wetmore, D-Folly Beach, campaigns with her daughter, Lola Kate Wetmore, and husband, Burns Malone Wetmore, in 2020. Spencer Wetmore is proposing a law change that would allow candidates to use campaign funds to pay for childcare. (Provided/Spencer Wetmore)

COLUMBIA — Candidates for elected office in South Carolina could use campaign donations to cover childcare expenses under legislation passed Tuesday in the House over the opposition of the hardline Freedom Caucus.

Proponents of the bill argued it could enable more people to run for office. It’s part of a national movement trying to get more parents, especially mothers and other caregivers, into politics by making it easier for candidates to pay for childcare while they campaign or serve in elected office. Thirty-one other states already allow it, with Indiana being the latest to adopt it.

Opponents, led by the Freedom Caucus, countered it amounts to using political donations for personal expenses, opening up the possibility for corruption.

Unlike most bills, this one did not pass along party lines. The 53-45 vote was unusually close in a chamber with a supermajority of Republicans. Two dozen Republicans joined Democrats in support.

Candidates can’t pay a family member to keep their children. The bill allows campaign money to be used only for immediate family members who are either children or have a disability requiring full-time care while a candidate is campaigning or — once elected — while they’re carrying out public duties.

For example, a parent on city council could use campaign funds for childcare during a weekly council meeting but not for regular after-school care during their day job.

Federal candidates have been able to use campaign funds for dependents’ care since 2018, and in February 2023, the SC House Ethics Committee ruled state House members could as well. The law would extend the ability to all elected offices in the state.

“I was briefly thinking through how far we can expand this, even just the costs for childcare,” said Rep. Adam Morgan, R-Taylors, chairman of the Freedom Caucus, suggesting the money could be used for a gaming system, medical care or other expenditures.

Morgan, who’s running for Congress, argued that candidates should be responsible for their household expenses.

“Let’s stick to campaign contributions being used for your campaign,” he said. “Let’s make sure we have a system that’s as strong as possible.”

He tried unsuccessfully to undo the House Ethics Committee ruling and strike the option for legislators.

SC candidates could use campaign donations for childcare under proposal

A bipartisan group of representatives leaned into the sparring match with the Freedom Caucus.

House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, argued that the expenditures on childcare will be publicly reported for donors to see, like any other campaign expense. Using the money inappropriately would open candidates to penalties.

“Let’s stop pretending this body is looking out for the little people, because we are not the little people,” he said. “This is about people wanting to do better, wanting to run for office, but can’t do so because they don’t have someone who can watch their child.”

One amendment offered by House Judiciary Chairman Weston Newton, a co-sponsor, was adopted. It would prevent full-time elected officials, such as sheriffs, from using campaign funds to cover care during their normal work hours.

“It just seems to be more for the elected elite,” said Rep. April Cromer, R-Anderson, a Freedom Caucus member in questioning Newton about the bill.

“I think it’s quite the contrary,” said Newton, R-Bluffton. “This allows for an even playing field for those that might want to run for office.”