Inside California’s New Law Pushing for Gender Parity in Public Office

A bill introduced by Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) that would allow campaign funds to be used for child care by those who choose to run for elected office in California was signed into law Monday by Governor Gavin Newsom.

The bill, AB 220, is aimed to allow more women and parents to run for office beginning in 2020.

“AB 220 will help create greater gender parity among elected officials in California and more broadly help all parents with young children seek and serve in public office by allowing the use of campaign funds for child care expenses,” said Bonta. “I’m excited and extremely grateful to Governor Newsom for signing AB 220 into law.” 

AB 220 amends the Political Reform Act of 1974 to expressly allow campaign funds to be used for child care by those who choose to run for elected offices in California. 

Currently, there is no statute in California or official ruling by the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) allowing candidates to use campaign funds for child care purposes. That meant any person who attempted to use campaign funds for child care expenses had no statutory protection and would have been relying on a 20-year-old, non-binding advice letter by the FPPC which does not carry the weight of law. AB 220 provides certainty for parents of young children seeking office by placing this allowance in statute. 

“Our goal is to always make it easier for people to get involved in politics, especially those who’ve traditionally faced barriers,” said FPPC Chair Richard C. Miadich. “We thank [Governor Newsom] and applaud Assemblymember Bonta … for finding a way to make California politics more accessible to all.”

The California State Legislature is currently 30 percent female, up from last year’s 23 percent.

“That is a positive change,” Bonta admits, “yet, as we know, that number in no way represents the gender makeup of California. AB 220 removes an important barrier for people seeking to serve in office.”

Advocates for electing more women—like organization Emerge California, a training program for Democratic women candidates—say the bill’s passage is important not just for the sake of fairness, but also so that policymakers are more reflective of the state as a whole.

“There’s a really important voice by having all women at the table—young women, low-income women—to have the California Legislature look like California,” said Amber Maltbie, a political attorney and past chair of Emerge California. “As a campaign finance attorney and advocate for greater gender parity in elected office, I have seen firsthand how the cost of child care prevents and delays women from running for office. AB 220 is commonsense reform which will allow more women to run for office.”

Emerge California has been recruiting, training and supporting women who want to run for office for nearly two decades, and its organizers have learned firsthand how child care costs can be a real barrier for women who want to enter the political arena. Melanie V. Ramil, Emerge California Executive Director, calls the bill “a gamechanger.”

“Historically, far too many barriers have confronted women and working people whose talent, experience and commitment qualify them to guide our state’s priorities,” said Susannah Delano, Executive Director of Close the Gap California. “Our recruiters see first-hand that the financial strain of ensuring quality childcare while putting in the grueling hours required by any credible campaign can discourage even the most accomplished prospective candidate from entering a race.”

“Parents of young children bring an important perspective to policy-making and should be encouraged to enter the political arena and serve,” said Bonta. “Our campaign laws should support candidates with young children. With AB 220 being signed into law, we are again promoting our California values of inclusion, equity and opportunity for all.”

AB 220 is joint-authored by Assemblymembers Lorena Gonzalez (D- San Diego), Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland), and co-authored by Assemblymembers Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda), David Chiu (D-San Francisco), Jesse Gabriel (D-San Fernando Valley ), Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara), Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach), Blanca Rubio (D-Baldwin Park), and Senators Hannah Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) and Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley). 

AB 220 is supported by the following groups: Alameda County Board of Supervisors, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – California, Black Women Organized for Political Action, California Alternative Payment Program Association, California Fair Political Practices Commission, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, California School Employees Association, California Special Districts Association, California Voices for Progress, Close the Gap California, Emerge California, Service Employees International Union California, and the City of Los Angeles.

About and

Jerome Parra is the Communications Director for California State Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland).
Roxanne Szal (or Roxy) is the managing digital editor at Ms. and a producer on the Ms. podcast On the Issues With Michele Goodwin. She is also a mentor editor for The OpEd Project. Before becoming a journalist, she was a Texas public school English teacher. She is based in Austin, Texas. Find her on Twitter @roxyszal.