January 24, 2002
Digest: A candidate for judicial office who was unsuccessful in the election, should not personally send a letter to persons who contributed funds to the election campaign, thanking them for their financial support, but the campaign committee may send such a letter, provided that it is sent during the Window Period.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.0; 100.5; 100.5(A)(5)
A candidate for judicial office who was unsuccessful in the election asks whether it is ethically permissible to personally send a form letter to persons who contributed to the election campaign to thank them for their financial support.
The sending of such a letter constitutes political activity, thus calling into play section 100.5 of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. 22 NYCRR 100.5. As specified therein, a judge who is a candidate for public election to judicial office is prohibited from personally soliciting or accepting campaign contributions, but may form a campaign committee to do so on the judge's behalf. 22 NYCRR 100.5(A)(5).
It is the Committee's opinion that a candidate who was unsuccessful as a candidate for election to judicial office should not send a letter to those who contributed to the campaign to thank them for their financial support. Such a letter would clearly signify knowledge of who contributed funds and therefore is, in our view, inconsistent with section 100.5(A)(5) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. That is, the ban on personally soliciting or accepting campaign contributions carries with it an implicit recognition that a candidate should remain ignorant of who contributed to his or her campaign. That policy would be undermined if the candidate sent a letter to each contributor. The Committee believes, however, that it would not be improper for the inquirer's campaign committee to send a letter to campaign donors that expresses the candidate's gratitude for their contributions. Such a letter may even include a direct quote from the candidate expressing thanks, but the campaign committee should refrain from informing the candidate of the names of the persons to whom the thank-you letters are being sent and should let the addressees know it has refrained from informing the candidate of their identities. Moreover, the letters must be mailed during the Window Period since such communications constitute a form of political activity, all of which must cease six-months after the election. 22 NYCRR 100.0.