Opinion: 98-06
January 28, 1998
Digest:    (1) There is no ethical prohibition against using unexpended campaign funds to reimburse a judicial candidate for campaign-related travel expenses, provided it is permitted by the Election Law. (2) Unexpended campaign funds may not be used to purchase gifts for campaign workers.

Rules:    22 NYCRR 100.5 (A) (5); Election Law § 14-130
              Opinions 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 judge requests advice concerning the permissible uses of unexpended campaign finance monies. The judge inquires whether such funds may be used to reimburse the judge for travel expenses related to the campaign. The judge also inquires whether gifts of nominal value (under $25) may be given to several persons who assisted in the campaign.

            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 states, regarding campaign contributions, that "Such funds shall not be converted by any person to a personal use which is unrelated to a political campaign ...".

            In applying these provisions, the Committee's previous opinions reflect a general prohibition against the use of unexpended campaign funds for private, including charitable, purposes See, Opinions 93-80(Vol. XI); 90-4(Vol. V) and 87-02(Vol. I).
             But the travel expenses referred to by the judge, albeit personal to the judge, were campaign-related, and, according to the inquiry, can be documented by appropriate records. The application of campaign funds to cover these expenses is therefore appropriate.
            However, the Committee believes that the rules cited above prohibit the making of even token gifts to campaign workers. Although the Committee has previously stated that unexpended campaign funds may be used for a modest victory celebration within the six month post-election period (see, Opinions 93-19[Vol. X]; 89-152[Vol. V]; 87-16[Vol. I]), this exception to the general rule was based on the status of such celebrations as a "traditional part of the total election process" Opinion 87-16(Vol. I), supra. The same cannot be said for gift-giving, and hence, the Committee concludes that the surplus funds should not be used for this purpose.