March 10, 1994
Digest: A judge's campaign committee may not engage in a solicitation of funds to repay the indebtedness of prior campaigns when the liability is a loan to those campaign committees from the judge and the judge's spouse.
Rules: 22 NYCRR §§100.2(c), 100.7
The inquirer, soon to be a candidate for election in 1994, was also a candidate in 1993 and 1992. The judge anticipates the formation of a campaign committee for the election and had such a committee for each of the last two campaigns. For the prior elections, the committees' funding was from loans made to them by the judge and the judge's spouse. This funding to the committees was reported in the financial filings required by the Election Law. The judge envisions that the 1994 committee will make a solicitation of funds for use in connection with the upcoming campaign. The judge specifically asks whether it is permissible to inform potential contributors that the fundraising is also to retire the debts of the two previous campaigns.
A rewording of the query is appropriate. May a judge's campaign committee solicit funds which will be used to repay an indebtedness to the judge and the judge's spouse?
The Rules of the Chief Administrator prohibit the solicitation of funds by a judge personally regardless of the reason. But a judge's committee may solicit funds to be used in connection with the judge's campaign for judicial office. Fundraising for a judicial campaign is specifically limited in time, to a period -
Beginning nine months before a primary election... for which the judge is an announced candidate ... and ending if the judge is a candidate in the general election for that office, six months after the general election. If the judge is not a candidate in the general election, this period shall end on the date of the primary election...
This Rule makes each campaign finite, allowing no campaign fund-raising action between campaigns. Nor does it permit any coalescence of the funds solicited for one campaign with another campaign. This Committee has previously articulated the inappropriateness of the use of the unexpended funds of one campaign for the next campaign. Opinion 88-89, Vol. 11.
Additionally, a judge is admonished by the Rules to "conduct himself or herself at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartially of the judiciary." §100.2(a). Contributors, though apprised of the fact that their contributions might go to repay the judge or the judge's spouse, might be desirous of contributing only to the 1994 campaign. Also the repayment of money to the judge himself or herself could appear to be a way in which to curry the judge's favor, whether intended as such or not, and regardless of whether that particular contribution was applied to the loans. The integrity of the judiciary would be compromised and the public could reasonably question the impartiality of the judge, thus constituting a clear violation of Section 100.2(a).