Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie file photo

NEW BRITAIN, CT — It took more than two years, but a New Britain Superior Court judge sided with Caitlin Clarkson Pereira Thursday in her fight to use public campaign funds to pay for child care.

Clarkson Pereira challenged the State Elections Enforcement Commission’s decision, which concluded that privately raised campaign funds may generally be spent to pay for childcare costs, but candidates participating in the landmark Citizen’s Election Program cannot spend any money on child care once they qualify for the clean election grant.

“We have gone multiple election cycles without knowing the final verdict, keeping countless candidates from entering races because the expense of child care would be such a burden,” Clarkson Pereira said Thursday. “I have always been confident this was the answer we should have received from the beginning, and it’s past time Connecticut officially joins all the other states that allow such an expense.”

Superior Court Judge John Cordani concluded in his ruling in favor of Clarkson Pereira that these child care expenses would not exist without the campaign.

“These child care expenses are not personal items (support or expenses) because they would not exist absent the campaign and the campaign event cannot proceed without them,” Cordani wrote. “As such these child care expenses are easily distinguished from mortgage or rent for the candidate’s existing home, utilities for the candidate’s existing home, and clothing or personal appearance expenses because the foregoing expenses would exist absent the campaign.”

Clarson Pereira’s attorney, Alex Taubes, called it a”landmark decision” that “will set a precedent in favor of democratic participation, equality, and fairness for candidates with young children who need child care for their campaigns.”

“Caitlin Clarkson Pereira has held the Elections Commission accountable for their decision, which was wrong on the law. The court’s ruling will benefit the entire state of Connecticut and candidates struggling for fairness nationwide,” Taubes said.

Michael Brandi, executive director of the State Elections Enforcement Commission, said they respect the courts decision.

“This was something the agency really struggled over, “Brandi said. “The Commission respects the court’s decision and has tried very hard not to overstep its regulatory role, which is why we’ve proposed legislation to clarify precisely this area of the law. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the legislative measures didn’t move forward this year.” 

Clarkson Pereira had a lot of support in her attempt to get election regulators in Connecticut to overturn their finding, including from Gov. Ned Lamont and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz. She also had the help of federal regulators.

Federal campaign laws allow candidates to use campaign funds for child care.

“You still can’t use campaign funds for babysitting on date night,” Federal Election Commission Chair Ellen Weintraub wrote in a letter of support. “But if those funds are spent on child care to expand the time that candidates are available to campaign, those child care expenses directly further the candidate’s campaign for office. In fact, dollar for dollar, child care may be among the most efficacious expenses any campaign can incur.”

Clarkson Pereira, who ran for state representative in the 132nd district, said she would still be at a disadvantage if she used campaign funds for child care because it means she would be unable to use that money for something like mail or other campaign communications. However, it’s something she’s willing to accept because it would give her another opportunity to run.