Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
Attorney General Mark Herring says political candidates in Virginia can use campaign funds to pay campaign-related child care expenses, an opinion that puts the state in alignment with federal election rules but has little immediate impact due to the state’s anything-goes campaign finance system.
“Virginia’s campaign finance statutes allow for the use of campaign funds for child care expenses if those expenses are the direct result of campaign activity,” Herring wrote in an opinion sent Friday to almost a dozen state lawmakers seeking clarity on the issue. “Such an expense is no different from paying for services such as those of campaign staff because without it, the individual would be prevented from expressly advocating for their election to elected office and for the defeat of their opponent.”
The opinion could become more impactful if the General Assembly were to pass legislation banning the personal use of campaign funds.
That bill has been proposed in the past as a way to prevent elected officials from using their campaign accounts to subsidize their lifestyle. The legislation has repeatedly failed to win final passage due to some lawmakers’ concerns that it’s too difficult to draw a clear legal distinction between campaign-related expenses and personal expenses.
A version of the bill that passed the House of Delegates unanimously earlier this year included a carveout for child-care costs.
The bill failed in the Senate, with legislators agreeing to look at the issue as part of a broader study of Virginia’s campaign finance laws.
Proponents of the child-care exemption say it gives parents of young children, particularly women, more freedom to run for office without worrying about a hit to their family budget.
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