December 8, 2005
NOTE: MODIFIED BY OPINION 06-162
Digest: A recently re-elected judge who presides over a drug treatment court may not use excess campaign funds to purchase congratulatory gifts, such as dinners or theater tickets, for graduates who have successfully completed the drug court treatment program.
Rules: Election Law §14-130; 22 NYCRR 100.5(A)(5); Opinions 04-06; 98-06 (Vol. XVI); 93-80 (Vol. XI); 93-19 (Vol. X); 90-4 (Vol. V); 89-152 (Vol. V); 87-16 (Vol. I); 87-02 (Vol. I).
A recently re-elected City Court judge inquires as to the proper use of unexpended campaign funds. The judge has presided over the drug treatment court for the past three years, and asks whether a portion of the excess campaign funds may be used to buy dinners, theater tickets or other congratulatory items for those who successfully complete the drug court program. These items would be distributed at the drug court graduation ceremony.
Section 100.5(A)(5) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct states that “A candidate shall not use or permit the use of campaign contributions for the private benefit of the candidate or others.” Section 14-130 of the Election Law further states, regarding campaign contributions, that “[s]uch funds shall not be converted by any person to a personal use which is unrelated to a political campaign.”
Applying these provisions, the Committee has generally prohibited the use of campaign funds for private, including charitable purposes. Opinion 98-06 (Vol. XVI); See also Opinions 93-80 (Vol. XI); 90-4 (Vol. V) and 87-02 (Vol. I). The Committee has extended this prohibition to include token gifts to campaign workers. Opinion 98-06 (Vol. XVI). While the Committee has stated that such funds may be used for a modest victory celebration during the six-month post-election period (Window Period), this allowance was made because these celebrations were determined to be a “traditional part of the total election process.” Opinion 87-16 (Vol. I); See also 93-19 (Vol. X); 89-152 (Vol. V).
Further, the Committee has stated that a judge, depending upon the circumstances, must either return expended campaign funds to contributors on a pro-rata basis, or may purchase chambers furniture, office equipment, or the like, which then becomes the property of the New York State Unified Court system. Opinion 04-06. Thus, the proposed expenditures in this instance do not fall within a permitted category for the use of excess campaign funds. Accordingly, in our opinion the rules cited above prohibit the use of unexpended campaign funds for the distribution of gifts to graduates of drug treatment courts.