Liuba Grechen Shirley, a candidate in the Democratic primary in...

Liuba Grechen Shirley, a candidate in the Democratic primary in the 2nd Congressional District, seen on April 11, can use campaign funds to pay for child care, a federal agency ruled. Credit: Uli Seit

The Federal Election Commission ruled unanimously Thursday that Democratic congressional candidate Liuba Grechen Shirley can use campaign funds for child care expenses.

Grechen Shirley said it would allow candidates in federal races to use campaign money for child care, while an FEC spokeswoman said the opinion would apply in “identical sets of circumstances.”

“I’m thrilled. It’s a landmark decision for women and working parents across the country,” Grechen Shirley said Thursday in an interview. “I’m proud to be the first woman in the country to spend federal campaign money on child care. I hope this decision inspires thousands of women across the country to run for office.”

Grechen Shirley, 36, of Amityville is running in a June 26 Democratic primary in the 2nd Congressional District against Suffolk Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague), the legislature’s presiding officer. They are vying to face incumbent Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) in November.

Since March 1, Grechen Shirley has paid a baby-sitter $22 an hour from campaign funds to watch her two children, ages 2 and 3, while she has worked on her congressional race and her husband worked in Manhattan.

Grechen Shirley asked the FEC last month to formally allow the use. She cited prior commission opinions that allowed the use of campaign funds for child care.

In 1995, for instance, an advisory opinion allowed former Rep. Jim McCrery, a Louisiana Republican, to use campaign funds for child care so his wife, the full-time caregiver of their infant son, could attend campaign events with him.

A 2008 draft advisory opinion from the FEC also allowed candidate Todd Goldup in New York’s 20th Congressional District to use campaign funds for child care, although the opinion was never approved by a quorum of the FEC board.

FEC spokeswoman Judith Ingram said advisory opinions apply to candidates who request them, “or identical sets of circumstances. You’ll see that this advisory opinion builds on previous ones concerning similar issues.”

Jerry H. Goldfeder, a Manhattan attorney who specializes in election and campaign finance law, said Thursday the ruling was “a very significant precedent” for parents who run for office.

But Kevin Tschirhart, a Republican strategist who has worked on Suffolk County races, tweeted Thursday that “allowing campaign funds to be used on childcare opens the door to all kinds of abuse. There are childcare places in NYC that cost $30k/year.”

In reaction to the ruling, Gregory said, “It is good that this has been put to rest, and now the focus can shift to our working families who need real child care options. Every family should have access to child care, just like every family should have access to health care.”

Gregory’s campaign initially criticized campaign expenditures for child care as a “slippery slope” to using such funds for personal use.

Grechen Shirley’s request attracted support from more than two dozen members of Congress. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also wrote a letter of support to the FEC last month.

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