Opinion 14-146

October 23, 2014


Digest:         A judicial candidate may not permit his/her campaign committee to solicit or accept items for donation to a local charity.


Rules:          Election Law § 14-130; 22 NYCRR 100.4(C)(3)(b)(i),(iv); 100.5(A)(5); 100.5(A)(6)Opinions 14-127; 14-68; 12-95(A); 08-151; 07-137; 99-56 (Vol. XVII); 87-02 (Vol. I).


         A non-judge candidate for judicial office asks whether he/she may allow his/her campaign committee to hold a “meet and greet the candidate” event and invite attendees to donate “items such as toiletries, clothing, blankets, etc.” which the committee will then donate to a local shelter which assists victims of domestic violence. Presumably, advertisements for the event would alert attendees to bring items for donation.

         A judicial candidate must not personally solicit or accept campaign contributions but may establish a campaign committee to “solicit and accept reasonable campaign contributions... from the public” (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[A][5]). However, a candidate for public election to judicial office is prohibited from using or permitting the use of campaign contributions for the private benefit of others (see Election Law §14-130 [contributions received by candidate or political committee shall not be converted to personal use unrelated to political campaign or holding public office or party position]; 22 NYCRR 100.5[A][5] [candidate shall not use or permit the use of campaign contributions for private benefit of others]).

         The Committee previously has advised that while a candidate may use his/her personal funds to make charitable donations, a candidate for judicial office may not use unexpended campaign funds for that purpose (see Opinions 08-151; 99-56; 87-02 [Vol. I]). The Committee noted that charitable contributions per se are not a traditional part of the election process, and, unless an expenditure is made for the direct benefit of a judicial candidate’s campaign, such as the purchase of a campaign advertisement, such expenditures are an impermissible use of campaign contributions (see Opinions 12-95(A) fn 1; 08-151; 07-137; see also 22 NYCRR 100.5[A][6] [fair value rule]).

         Here, the inquirer may not permit his/her campaign committee to solicit or accept items for donation to a local charity.1 To allow the campaign committee to serve as a conduit for contributions (whether of money or in-kind donations) from the public to a charity would be inconsistent with the sole, legal role of a campaign committee, which is to conduct a candidate’s campaign for election to judicial office (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[A][5]).2


         1 Presumably, in order for the campaign event to result in a donation of goods to the local shelter, the event would have to be advertised in a manner that would alert attendees to bring items for donation.

         2 Of course, sitting judges – whether or not in their window period – are always barred from personally participating in soliciting charitable contributions (see e.g. Opinions 14-127; 14-68; 22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3][b][i],[iv]).