Breaking Down Barriers


When I ran for Congress in 2018, my children were one and three years old. For months, I made calls to donors while nursing my son and with my daughter covering my head in hair clips. Although my mother could watch my children every day after 3:30PM, most of the time I changed diapers with a phone attached to my ear and knocked doors with a baby strapped to my chest. My schedule was unsustainable – but so was paying for childcare while campaigning with no salary.

I no longer wondered why more mothers with young children weren’t running for Congress.

Six months into my campaign, I knew something had to change. Despite being told that it would be political suicide, I petitioned the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and requested approval to spend my campaign money to pay for the cost of childcare. To my surprise, Secretary Hillary Clinton and 24 members of Congress wrote letters in support. My request received unanimous and bipartisan approval by the FEC and I became the first woman in history to receive federal approval to spend Campaign Funds on Childcare. Since then, more than 50 federal candidates have used Campaign Funds for Childcare – both moms and dads, Democrats and Republicans. More than 60% of the funds spent on childcare have been by women and more than half by candidates of color.

Research shows that childcare obligations are among women’s biggest considerations when deciding whether to run. But imagine if no candidate had to consider the cost of childcare in weighing their decision to run for office. Imagine if we could break down the institutional barriers to empower a diverse pipeline of parents and caregivers to run for office.

While my FEC ruling applies to all candidates pursuing federal office, it does not extend to candidates at the state and federal level. That’s why I built Vote Mama Foundation, the only organization working with legislators across the country to approve the use of Campaign Funds for Childcare for state and local candidates. Since launching in 2020, we have partnered with legislators to authorize the use of Campaign Funds for Childcare in 26 states.

Vote Mama Foundation works with a family of organizations, our political and civic participation arms Vote Mama PAC and Vote Mama Action Fund, to make it easier to be a parent and a child in the United States. We fight to overcome the systemic hurdles that mothers face while running for office and the challenges that legislators face while fighting for family-friendly legislation.

Vote Mama Foundation is the leading source of research and analysis on the political participation of moms, and is the only organization tracking how many state legislators are mothers with young children. Our latest research project, The State of Motherhood in American Politics, will survey every woman serving in state legislatures and will provide first-of-its-kind data on motherhood in statehouses.

I believe we can change our political landscape by breaking down the barriers that hold parents and caregivers back. When our voices are at the table and more of our representatives understand the realities of working families, our policies will catch up and women and family-friendly legislation will become non-negotiables.

As part of the Women & Politics Institute’s “Women on Wednesdays” series, Liuba Grechen Shirley will discuss Vote Mama’s mission to “break the structural barriers moms face running for office, normalize moms of young children running, and leverage a network of moms in office to advance women-centered, family-friendly legislation,” on Wednesday, April 13 at 6pm ET. Details and registration here.

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