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House candidate asks FEC to let her use campaign funds for health insurance
Nabilah Islam, a progressive Democrat running for a House seat in Georgia, is asking the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to let her use campaign funds to purchase health insurance.
Islam, 30, said the ban on using campaign funds for health insurance creates hurdles for working-class Americans to overcome if they wish to run for office.
"Running for Congress, running for office, is cost prohibitive," Islam told The Hill.
She said if the United States wants a government that includes people who are not wealthy, it needs to change the rules of the game.
"What we need is more working-class candidates running for office, and removing structural barriers that prevent them from running for office in the first place," she said.
Islam plans to file her request with the FEC next week. She'll argue that many working-class Americans choose not to run for office because of the financial impediments, according to a copy of her request shared with The Hill.
Candidates are prohibited from using campaign funds for personal use under federal election laws.
The bar for what qualifies as "personal use" is based on whether or not the expenses would exist irrespective of the candidate's campaign, said Erin Chlopak, the director of finance strategy at Campaign Legal Center and the former acting associate general counsel at the FEC.
Similar arguments to Islam's have been made previously.
In 2018, Democratic candidate Liuba Grechen Shirley asked to use campaign funds for child care expenses, Chlopak said. The FEC decided to allow a candidate to use campaign funds for child care expenses "that are incurred as a direct result of campaign activity."
Islam said that she had insurance covered by her employer, but she had to give up that job in order to dedicate herself full-time to the campaign. She later had a plan at the beginning of 2019, but she said it was a "junk health care plan," that wouldn't cover an ambulance or hospital stay, and she felt like she was "paying money into an abyss."
"Until we pass 'Medicare For All' and ensure health care coverage for everyone in this country ... asking the FEC permission to use campaign funds to fund health care will help working-class candidates run for office in the first place," she said.
Islam said she's raised about $400,000 in the race so far and estimates she would need around $450 a month to cover health insurance costs.
"I've talked to about this [to] donors, supporters, voters - they totally understand this is a barrier for a lot of working-class people, people of color, women running for office. So they're totally on board," Islam said.
Her case is likely more of a moot point for now, as Chlopak noted the FEC lacks a voting quorum of commissioners.
"It's unfortunate for her and anyone else that might have a pressing question," Chlopak said.
But Islam said her request isn't just about her own situation.
"Regardless of my race, this is something I'll continue to fight for ... we need to take down all the structural barriers that prevent working-class people from running," she said, adding that if elected officials more accurately reflected the make-up of America "priorities in Congress would be very different."
"We would have passed Medicare for All by now," Islam added.
Expanding the permissible uses of campaign funds, including for health insurance, was proposed under the For the People Act, or H.R. 1, that was passed by the Democratic-controlled House last year. The bill was not passed by the Senate, where there is a GOP majority.
Islam is a native resident of the Georgia district she's running in. She's a political activist and worked on Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign and later for the Democratic National Committee.
The 30-year-old progressive faces at least six Democratic challengers for the party nomination, including Carolyn Bourdeaux, the Democrat who narrowly lost to GOP Rep. Rob Woodall in 2018. Bordeaux raised more than $350,000 in just the first seven weeks of her campaign.
There are even more Republicans running in the GOP primary after Woodall announced last year he wouldn't seek reelection.
The seat has long been held by a Republican, but Gwinnett County, which makes up a large portion of the 7th District, voted for Clinton in 2016 and Democrat Stacey Abrams for governor in 2018, signaling a shift in the electorate's demographics.
The Cook Political Report rates the seat as a toss-up.