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The Louisiana State Capitol, Thursday, February 14, 2019, in downtown Baton Rouge, La.

Louisiana candidates for public office will now be able to use their campaign funds to pay for child care while they are taking part in fundraisers, meet-and-greets and other campaign events, after the Louisiana Ethics Board on Friday narrowly reversed its previous ruling on the issue.

Morgan Lamandre, an attorney who is running for a Baton Rouge-area House seat this year, was advised in November that she could be penalized if she uses her campaign fund to pay for child care. Her appeal of that ruling was heard Friday morning, and the board voted 6-4 in favor of allowing child care as a campaign expense. Its previous vote was 5-2 against allowing it.

“More women will be able to run for office,” Lamandre said after the board action Friday. “I’m very excited about that.

Political candidates in Louisiana routinely tap into their campaign accounts to pay for constituent gifts, athletic tickets, Mardi Gras trinkets and monthly cellphone bills, among other perks, without facing penalty.

In the past, the Ethics Board, with a different roster of members, gave opinions that allowed child care to be reported as a campaign expense when its needed to allow a candidate to campaign.

After Lamadre’s request was denied, several officials, including Gov. John Bel Edwards and the bipartisan Louisiana Legislative Women’s Caucus, urged the board to reconsider.

"Unfortunately, there are costs that candidates have to incur to run for office, and also to hold office," Edwards, a Democrat, said during his monthly call-in radio show in December. "Basic childcare seems to me to be a reasonable expense. ... I hope the Ethics Board will reconsider that decision."

The Federal Election Commission last year ruled that it's legal for congressional candidates to pay for child care with their campaign funds, highlighting the issue on a national level.

Louisiana, historically, has had few female legislators, compared to other states. About 14.6 percent of Louisiana's legislative seats currently are held by women. Only Oklahoma and Wyoming have smaller shares of female lawmakers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures' 2018 figures.

Lamandre’s appeal lasted for more than an hour, as board members debated whether the state’s campaign finance laws allowed child care as a campaign expense and a stream of women testified in support of Lamandre.

Nicole Bauer, a political communication professor at LSU, said the costs of child care while campaigning could “have a dangerous and chilling effect on women’s ability to run for office.”

“It is inherently an activity that disproportionately affects women,” she said. “It should not rule out their participation in public life.”

Some board members said they didn’t see it as a “gender issue.”

“I’m really getting tired of being accused of being someone who is against females running for office,” said board member La Koshia R. Roberts of Lake Charles, who voted against Lamandre’s appeal. “We’re being attacked because we are trying to apply the law.”

Under state law, candidates can’t use campaign funds for “any personal use unrelated to a political campaign or the holding of public office.” It’s up to the Ethics Board to determine what that applies to, for expenses not explicitly addressed in law.

“My concern with paying for child care – who personally benefits?” Roberts said. “I do not see how I can agree that child care can be included under this body of law.”

Yigal Bander, a Baton Rouge attorney who testified at the hearing, said he thought that it “should be clear” that Lamandre’s request should be granted.

“Additional child care that is for the sole purpose of allowing a candidate to attend campaign functions may be a personal use, but it’s a personal use related to a political campaign,” he told the board.

Lamandre and her husband both work full-time and have two young children, ages six and two.

"When my husband is available he will be responsible for watching our children during the campaign but because of his work demands and frequent travel he will not always be available," she wrote in her initial request for the Ethics Board to give an opinion on the issue. "Additionally there are times when I may benefit from my husband's attendance at campaign events, child care will be required during these situations and since we do not have family that live nearby additional child care expenses will be incurred."


Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.