It would be tempting to say that the Louisiana Board of Ethics hasn’t kept up with the times, but that would be giving the panel too much credit. By banning a Baton Rouge legislative hopeful from using her campaign money to pay for child care expenses incurred as a direct result of her candidacy, which it did in a controversial 5-2 ruling late last year, the board really took a giant step backward.
Despite having previously okayed the practice — for male candidates, notably — the board told Morgan Lamandre, an attorney for a nonprofit, mother of two young kids and Democratic contender in the fall election for the state House’s District 66, that her request was out of line.
Even worse, one prominent board member, former Republican state Rep. Peppi Bruneau, came lamentably close to suggesting that her candidacy is too.
Bruneau, who was first elected in the mid-1970s and served when he had young children, told Lamandre that "child care ... should come before public office or anything else.”
"Life is full of choices, and that's one of them," Bruneau said at the November board meeting. "Nobody forces you to run for public office. But you have a child, and that is your primary responsibility, to provide for that child.”
Bruneau went on to tell Lamandre that raising money for child care is a “misplaced priority," and even proceeded to hector her about what would happen if she got elected and faced a grueling schedule — just as some mothers and quite a few fathers do.
Lamandre’s asking for a rehearing, and the board is expected to consider her case Friday.
The good news here is that there appears to be a groundswell pushing back against this outdated worldview.
If the board doesn’t reverse itself, expect the Legislature to chime in the spring session. Two New Orleans senators, Democrats JP Morrell and Troy Carter, and prepared to propose making this an allowable expense, and early signs are that it would be a bipartisan effort. The Louisiana Legislative Women’s Caucus is on record supporting a rehearing, in a letter that went out over the signature of Republican state Sen. Beth Mizell. Others, male and female, have chimed in too.
Let’s pause for a moment and be clear about what Lamandre, and those legislators, are talking about.
Lamandre asked for advance permission to use money she raised to pay for child care during fundraisers and other events the candidate must attend, in instances in which her husband is there too or is not otherwise available to watch the kids. She didn’t ask for donors to cover day care, after school care, summer camp or other pre-existing costs, let alone “date night,” as she told the board.
Yet Bruneau, in his questioning, zeroed in on the notion that such an allowance might open the door for “potential abuse.” Never mind how frequently political candidates tap into these funds for nice restaurant meals, sports tickets and such.
Those are perks. Child care is a modern-day necessity. There’s no Big Babysitting lobby looking for favors, only candidates trying to balance home and work, just like most of the people they seek to represent.
That’s true for candidates of both sexes but often more so for women, who frequently bear not only the primary responsibility for making arrangements but also the skepticism of those who can’t seem to understand why they don’t just stay home.
And this attitude has a broader effect on the very notion of representation. It can wind up restricting who participates in the process, and that in turn restricts what policies lawmakers address. The Louisiana Legislature, where women hold a shockingly low 15 percent of seats, is a case in point. Just listen to the clueless comments you sometimes hear from the dais the next time a committee considers some issue that affects working families.
There’s a reason other states, and the Federal Election Commission, have ruled in recent years that campaign money can used to help parents pay for child care, and in turn enable a broader range of candidates to seek office.
It’s the same reason Louisiana’s ethics officials should admit they got this one wrong and reverse themselves. Because in 2019, this stuff should be a no-brainer.