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Political notes: Campaign cash for childcare, Senate forums set, a CD-3 candidate bulks up with consultants

Del. Michele Guyton (D-Baltimore County) poses with Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-2nd) during a January 2024 Democratic Party luncheon. Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

The House of Delegates gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a bill that would enable state and local political candidates to use campaign funds to pay for childcare expenses.

The measure, sponsored by Del. Michele Guyton (D-Baltimore County), would codify in state law what has already been an accepted — but little-used — practice in the state since 2019.

“Nobody knows about it as an option,” Guyton said in an interview.

Guyton’s bill would permit candidates to use political funds for childcare expenses incurred while the candidate is on the campaign trail — but not for everyday childcare costs.

Although the bill would apply to female and male candidates, supporters said it would especially help women overcome a major impediment to running for office — finding and paying for childcare.

“Parenthood, especially to mothers, is a particular barrier to political participation,” Jakeya Johnson, executive director of the group Reproductive Justice Maryland, testified during a hearing on the bill earlier this month.

Guyton, who first ran for office in 2018, when she was 51 years old, said she could have been the beneficiary of such a law had it existed when she was a younger mother, scrambling to find childcare for her three sons.

“You couldn’t use campaign funds for a date night or to go to the movies,” said Jared DeMarinis, Maryland’s elections administrator.

Louisa Duggan, policy and advocacy manager for the Vote Mama Foundation, a national organization that seeks to break down barriers for women candidates, said similar laws are already on the books in about 30 states and at the federal level. Since 2018, she said, reimbursements for childcare have increased by 600% among state-level candidates, while they have increased by 200% among candidates for federal offices.

“This is explicitly allowed and should be normalized,” Duggan said.

In fact, such reimbursements are already permitted for state and local candidates in Maryland, thanks to a 2019 guidance letter from the assistant attorney general in the Maryland State Board of Elections in response to a candidate’s query. But DeMarinis said Maryland candidates, to date, have only sought about $500 in childcare reimbursements.

Passing a bill that puts the reimbursement in state law would strengthen the provisions and make more candidates aware that they exist, Guyton said.

“If they’re just in a guidance letter, it could change overnight,” she said. “If it’s in statute, it’s a little more protected.”

As they were voting to send Guyton’s bill to the full House last week, members of the Ways and Means Committee added a provision that would also enable candidates to seek reimbursements for care for dependent adults when they are on the campaign trail.

The bill won preliminary approval on the House floor on a voice vote, with no debate. A final vote is expected later this week, and then the measure would move to the Senate, where there is no companion legislation.

U.S. Senate forums coming up

The top two Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate are scheduled to participate in forums in back-to-back weeks next month in the Washington, D.C. area.

The first forum — featuring Rep. David Trone (D-6th) and Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks — is March 2 at Montgomery Blair High School. It is sponsored by the Women’s Democratic Club of Montgomery County, Greater Silver Spring Democratic Club and the Montgomery County Young Democrats.

The flier doesn’t specify which other Democratic candidates would appear, but the Maryland State Board of Elections note eight other people filed for the open seat to replace longtime Sen. Ben Cardin (D).

“This is an opportunity for voters to hear directly from the candidates on where they stand on key issues like women’s health, education, economic opportunity, and equality,” Tazeen Ahmad, president of the Women’s Democratic Club, said in a statement Tuesday.

The forum will be moderated by Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin.

On March 8, Alsobrooks and Trone are slated to appear at a forum sponsored by the Prince George’s County NAACP branch, at Ebenezer A.M.E. Church in Fort Washington.

Moderators for that forum are Ebony McMorris, a White House correspondent with American Urban Radio Networks; and Jordan Howlette, founder and managing attorney of JD Howlette Law.

This month, both Alsobrooks and Trone continue to travel the state talking about why they should represent Maryland.

Last week, Alsobrooks aired her first TV ad of the campaign.

So far, Trone has spent $23 million of his own money this election cycle, including on TV ads and mailers that target key elements of the Democratic electorate.

On the same day that Alsobrooks’ 30-second ad debuted, Trone’s campaign released a 30-second ad titled “Actions,” which features Prince George’s County Councilmember Krystal Oriadha (D) and former Montgomery County state Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez.

The winner of the May 14 primary could face a tough race in the November general election.

That’s because former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) filed his candidacy hours before the filing deadline.

Although six other candidates filed with the state Board of Elections to seek the Republican nomination, Hogan will be the clear frontrunner.

CD-3 candidate’s consultant lineup

She may be waging a longshot campaign for the open 3rd District congressional seat, but businesswoman Abigail Diehl has lined up a frontrunner’s team of consultants as she competes in the 22-candidate Democratic primary.

“As a longtime small business owner who has succeeded in the face of strong competition and economic uncertainty, I recognize how important it is to have a highly experienced and talented team who I can trust,” said Diehl, who owns and operates Diehl’s Produce in Annapolis. “This race will be won by the candidate [who] is able to galvanize voters around [a] message of change, and these amazing professionals will prove indispensable to our efforts.”

The campaign team features:

  • Campaign Manager Christine Senteno, who guided now-state Sen. Mary Washington’s upset victory over veteran Baltimore Sen. Joan Carter Conway in the 2018 Democratic primary.
  • Serving as the campaign’s general consultant will be Len Foxwell, the founder and co-owner of Tred Avon Strategies, who was a longtime chief of staff to former Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot and served as press secretary to former Gov. Parris N. Glendening and former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
  • Julian Mulvey, of the Washington, D.C.-based firm of Devine, Mulvey and Longabaugh, will be the campaign’s chief media adviser. Mulvey has worked with Foxwell on multiple campaigns.
  • David Goodman will be the campaign’s direct mail consultant. In Maryland, Goodman has worked for former U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Reps. Frank Kratovil and Donna Edwards, and coordinated an independent expenditure campaign for former Attorney General Brian Frosh.
  • Tom Van Horn, who oversaw campaign finance operations for the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus in 2022 and was finance director for the 2022 gubernatorial campaign of former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, will be the finance consultant.
  • Jason McGrath, a partner in the Democratic firm GBAO, will be the pollster.
  • Jake Litke, the CEO of MediaJel, a California-based company that provides cannabis firms with the complete spectrum of digital marketing platforms, will be the digital consultant.
  • Brett DiResta, founder and CEO of the Maccabee Group, who has worked for an array of clients, will head the campaign’s opposition research.

“This accomplished team of professionals will help me take my fresh new vision to every corner of this district,” Diehl said. “I’m excited to take this campaign to the next level and give our voters a true choice.”

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