A snippet of video on Twitter suggests Liuba Grechen Shirley’s kids had a pretty good time at Thursday’s Federal Election Commission hearing.
Their mom, though, may just have had a better one: In a groundbreaking unanimous decision, the commissioners of the FEC ruled Grechen Shirley can use campaign funds to defray the costs of child care as she pursues her run for a New York congressional seat.
“The ruling came in just in time for Mother’s Day, which is pretty incredible,” the Long Island Democrat told reporters on a conference call following the hearing.
“I will now be the first woman to ever spend federal campaign dollars that I am raising on a babysitter. And I’m hoping that I’ll be just the first,” she added. “I’m hoping that this decision inspires thousands of women — and fathers, parents of young children — to run.”
Grechen Shirley, a community activist, is the 36-year-old mother of two — Nicholas, 2, and Mila, 3. She says she now pays a sitter $22 an hour to watch the children during an approximately 20-hour work week.
If she wins, she’ll become part a very small group of congresswomen who balance their public office with being moms to very young children. First, of course, the consultant would have to defeat both a Democratic primary opponent, DuWayne Gregory — who has objected to her FEC request — and incumbent Republican Rep. Peter King.
Grechen Shirley says she thought hard about undertaking the race at all considering how young her kids are, but in the end, she had some A-list support for her push to use campaign cash to underwrite her childcare.
In April, Hillary Clinton’s lawyers wrote a letter arguing in the candidate’s favor. They noted that the childcare expenses existed specifically as a result of the Long Islander’s run for office; she had looked after them herself before launching a “rigorous campaign schedule.”
And in May, 24 members of Congress — women and men — signed a letter backing Grechen Shirley’s FEC request.
“Women and working parents face many barriers in running for public office, including meeting childcare obligations during campaigns that require frequent travel and evening and weekend events,” the lawmakers wrote. “As we work to build a political environment that is fair to candidates of all backgrounds, the Commission has a role to play in fairly enforcing and administering federal campaign finance laws.”
In addition, the campaign said more than 2,300 people nationwide signed a petition on Grechen Shirley’s behalf.
“It’s a groundbreaking decision that will remove a major financial obstacle for working families and mothers at a time when women are increasingly considering elected office,” Grechen Shirley said on the call.
The candidate said she hoped the ruling, which applies to political hopefuls who specifically incur babysitting costs as a result of embarking on a campaign, would foster more socioeconomic diversity among the ranks of future candidates.
Right now, she said, women candidates — who traditionally take a lot of convincing to get into the fray — are often inclined to put off a bid for office until their children are out of school: “We desperately need working women in Congress who understand firsthand what it’s like to balance a checkbook while raising children,” she said.
“We’re missing that critical voice.”
FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub echoed those sentiments, tweeting that she was glad to be part of the decision and predicted it would “expand – and diversify – the pool of people who will be able to run for federal office.”
At the same time, the FEC made clear that the decision still sets limits on how campaign cash can be spent.
Even as she savored the FEC victory, Grechen Shirley allowed that running for the House as the mom of toddlers is definitely no game of pattycake, even with help.
“It is definitely a struggle. It’s a juggling act every day,” she said.
“I take conference calls while nursing my son, while my daughter is running around and playing,” she said.
“I was there this morning to testify in front of the FEC with both of them, and they were running around and, you know, being chased by monsters,” she said of her two young charges. “Running for Congress with two small children, it’s become a family affair.”