HARTFORD, CT — When Caitlin Clarkson Pereira asked election regulators for an opinion about whether she could use campaign funds to pay for childcare last July, she thought that a progressive state like Connecticut would be understanding.
Pereira, a former candidate for the House of Representatives, filed a lawsuit Friday in Bridgeport Superior Court against the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) for its ruling in April against the use of public campaign funds for childcare.
“I never imagined that we would end up taking SEEC to court,” Pereira said. “Since the Federal Elections Commission and a number of states far less progressive than Connecticut had approved the requests brought in front of them, I couldn’t think of a reason that we wouldn’t do the same; I still can’t.”
The SEEC decided last month that once a candidate qualifies for Connecticut’s Citizens Election Program, they may not use campaign funds for child care finances under any circumstances.
The lawsuit alleges that the SEEC ruling is unconstitutional because it is “discriminatory against women without serving any legitimate purpose.”
A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office declined to comment on the pending litigation.
The lawsuit also states that research and common experience dictate that door-knocking is one of the most effective campaign tools. Since Pereira could not go door to door with her four-year-old daughter, Parker, she realized she would have to invest in significant amounts of child care with the goal of helping her campaign.
Pereira called the SEEC upon realizing this, to ask for permission to use some funds for child care, specifically child care that would make it possible for her to campaign to the best of her ability.
The SEEC asked her to submit a written request which it later denied.
“Caitlin was needlessly forced, on many occasions, to choose between her campaign’s needs and her family’s needs,” the lawsuit states. “Her campaign for state representative and her well-being and effectiveness as a mother and a citizen were both harmed.”
The SEEC’s final decision prevents Pereira from seeking reimbursement for childcare costs directly caused by running for office unless she delays participation in the matched funds from the Citizens Election Program (CEP) or raises all funds through private donations.
The SEEC issued a proposed ruling before issuing the final ruling and invited comments. All responses criticized the SEEC’s decision, but this didn’t deter them.
One such critic was the chair of the Federal Election Commission. In a letter of support for Pereira, she acknowledged that funds should not be used for date nights, but rather to allow candidates to be both effective mothers and campaigners.
“You still can’t use campaign funds for babysitting on date night,” Weintraub wrote. “But if those funds are spent on childcare to expand the time that candidates are available to campaign, those childcare expenses directly further the candidate’s campaign for office. In fact, dollar for dollar, childcare may be among the most efficacious expenses any campaign can incur.”
The lawsuit said that unless this decision is reversed, Pereira will be unable to run again.
“Reversing SEEC’s decision would relieve its burdens on Caitlin’s time, money, political speech and expression, and civic participation and meaningfully enable Caitlin to run for office in the 2020 election,” the lawsuit stated.