Opinion 92-97

January 28, 1993


Digest:         An incumbent judge seeking re-election may not permit a campaign committee to make contributions to county committees or political parties. However the committee may make such legal expenditures for the campaign as permitted by law.


Rules:          Election Law Section 17-162 and Chapter 14; 22 NYCRR 100.7(a)(2)(ii)(b).


         A full-time incumbent judge seeking re-election inquires if the judge’s campaign committee may make certain contributions to various political entities in furtherance of the judge’s campaign. The committee is funded entirely by contributions raised by it, no part of which were contributed by the judge. The judge asks about the propriety of the following contributions:


(a) A general contribution of a substantial amount to the county committee of a political party;


(b) A contribution to a political organization for the proportionate cost of running a judicial convention including site rental, printing and all other related expenses;


( c) (1) A contribution of a proportionate share of all campaign expenses of a political party supporting the judge’s candidacy such as radio ads, which mention no names but asks voters to elect Republicans or Democrats; and (2) the separation of the judge from the campaign committee, so that the committee may make such contributions without the judge’s knowledge;


(d) The purchase of tickets and attendance at political events for the judge and spouse;


(e) The purchase of a table of ten or more seats at a political event for the judge, spouse and campaign workers;

         Election Law Section 17-162 (McKinney’s Consolidated Laws, Volume 17) provides:


No candidate for a judicial office shall, directly or indirectly, make any contribution of money or other thing of value, nor shall any contribution be solicited of him, but a candidate for a judicial office may make such legal expenditures, other than contributions, authorized by this chapter.

         Section 100.7 of the Rules of the Chief Administrator of the courts provides that a judge may not contribute to any political party or campaign or take part in any political campaign, except his or her own campaign for elective judicial office.

         The judge’s campaign committee may not make a general contribution to a county committee of a political party, since such county committee is a purely political entity, and a contribution would be in violation of at least the spirit, if not the letter, of provisions of the Election Law and the Rules of the Chief Administratotor. In addition, such a contribution would create the appearance of impropriety and would unfavorably reflect upon the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

         The judge’s committee may reimburse a political party or county committee for the judge’s proportionate share of the cost of a judicial convention, as section 17-162 of the Election Law, and section 100.7 Rules of the Chief Administrator permit a judge’s committee to make expenditures for the judge’s own re-election. Since the judicial convention is a critical step in the judge’s election or re-election campaign, the judge’s committee may pay a proportionate share of the expense of the convention relating to the judge’s candidacy, which may include such expenses as site rental, food for delegates, advertising, music, and printing and distributing petitions. In such a case, payment may be made to the political party or organization responsible for organizing and running the convention. However, the expenditure may be only for the judge’s proportionate share and in a reasonable amount and not for other candidates as well.

         Neither the candidate nor the campaign committee may pay for a share of the political committee’s headquarters expense or general campaign mailings. Moreover, in this inquirer’s case, the judge’s campaign committee may not pay for printing of phone sheets or mailing of labels as the candidate expects no opposition, and thus the election is essentially uncontested.

         The judge’s campaign committee may not contribute funds for campaign expenses of a political party directed generally to encouraging voters to vote for that political party’s candidates without specifying the names of any particular candidates, as any payment for such purpose would be purely a political campaign contribution unrelated specifically to the judge’s candidacy. It would, therefore, be in violation of both the Election Law and Rules of the Chief Administrator.

         Moreover, section 17-162 of the Election Law and section 100.7(b) of the Rules of the Chief Administrator prohibit, directly or indirectly, contributions by a judge to any political campaign. The judge, therefore, may not be separated from any contributions made on the judge’s behalf by the campaign committee, whether or not the judge is aware of them, as these contributions are improper.

         During the permissible campaign period, the judge or the judge’s campaign committee may purchase two tickets to a political function relating to the judge’s candidacy so that one other person may attend the function with the judge. The Committee recognizes, for example, that the support and presence of a judge’s spouse, together with the judge, at such functions is an accepted and expected practice which furthers the judge’s election campaign. Accordingly, the judge or the judge’s committee may purchase a ticket for one other person to attend a political function with the judge during the permissible campaign period, but the cost of this ticket should not exceed the cost of the judge’s ticket.

         Section 100.7(a)(2)(ii) of the Rules of the Chief Administrator provides that during the permissible campaign period, judicial candidates “may purchase a ticket to a politically-sponsored dinner or other affair even where the regular cost of a ticket to such dinner or affair exceeds the proportionate cost of the dinner or affair.” Opinion 92-20of this Committee further states that a judge-candidate “cannot purchase more than the number of tickets reasonably necessary for the candidate or his or her family or a small number of friends.” That opinion is hereby modified to limit the purchase of tickets to a political affair to two tickets only, one for the candidate and one for another person to accompany the candidate. The purchase of a large block of tickets would look too much like an impermissible political contribution and would create an appearance of impropriety (22 NYCRR 100.2(a)). (We understand, however, that the Commission on Judicial Conduct, prior to the issuance by the Committee of Opinion 92-20 and this Opinion, has issued a letter of caution where a candidate purchased more than one ticket.) Where tickets are offered at multiple prices, the judge must purchase those with the lowest price.

         The inquiring judge, in a supplemental inquiry, lists some specific items for which payment may be requested from the judge’s committee by the county committee, and asks if the judge’s committee properly may pay for such items.

         It is this Committee’s view that the judge’s committee may reimburse the county committee for expenses it incurred in the preparation and the printing of petitions and distribution for judicial delegates, for postage for notices, audio and refreshment expenses for the judicial convention and for the printing of campaign materials (palm cards, ballot pieces, and “get out the vote” pieces), provided that the candidate or the candidate’s treasurer on a reasonable basis of fact believes that these expenses are reasonable and actual costs actually and proportionately relating to the candidate’s judicial campaign. On the other hand, reimbursement for a percentage of headquarters expenses (personal, phonebook costs and facilities) and postage expenses for campaign mailings is not permissible because that would constitute a general campaign contribution. Reimbursement for the processing and printing of telephone sheets and mailing labels for campaign purposes is not permissible.

         Non-incumbent candidates for judicial office also are covered by the Code of Judicial Conduct and thus, presumably would be subject to the same limitations set forth in this opinion.