May 10, 2018
Digest: Where a judge has completed all post-election requirements to wind down and terminate his/her campaign, he/she may subsequently return to the sender an unopened envelope addressed to the judge’s now defunct campaign committee. The judge may include a letter on campaign letterhead or personal letterhead and signed personally by the judge.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.0(A); 100.0(Q); 100.5(A)(1)(c); 100.5(A)(1)(h); 100.5(A)(2); 100.5(A)(2)(I); 100.5(A)(5); Opinions 17-23; 15-212; 10-135; 04-106; 02-06; 99-155.
The inquiring judge was recently elected or re-elected and has concluded all post-election campaign activities and wound down his/her campaign. Subsequently, the judge received a mailed envelope addressed to his/her now defunct campaign committee. The judge has not opened the envelope. The judge asks if he/she may simply return the unopened envelope with a letter stating that the envelope is being returned to the sender as the committee has ceased all campaign activities. The judge would personally sign the letter returning the unopened envelope.
Generally, a judicial candidate may personally participate in his/her own campaign for judicial office, subject to certain limits (see generally 22 NYCRR 100.0[A]; 100.5[A][c]; 100.5[A]). For example, a judicial candidate may contribute to his/her own campaign as permitted under the Election Law (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[A]), but must not otherwise personally solicit or accept campaign contributions from any source (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[A][h]; 100.5[A][I]). Instead, a judge must form a committee of responsible persons to “solicit and accept reasonable campaign contributions and support from the public” on the candidate’s behalf (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[A]) and should be shielded from knowing the identity of contributors (see Opinions 10-135; 02-06). The window period for a judge who is on the ballot for a general election ends precisely “six months after the election” (22 NYCRR 100.0[Q]), and he/she “must close his/her campaign account ‘as soon as practicable’ after the window period ends to avoid any possible appearance of engaging in impermissible political activity” (see Opinion 17-23).
We have advised judicial candidates not to “personally send a letter to persons who contributed funds to the election campaign, thanking them for their financial support” (Opinion 02-06). Such a letter may only be sent by the candidate’s campaign committee, and only during the applicable window period (id. [noting that the committee “should refrain from informing the candidate of the names of the persons to whom the thank-you letters are being sent” and so advise the addressees]). Here, we believe the analysis is different. While we recognize the envelope could potentially contain an attempted campaign contribution, we note it cannot, and will not, be accepted, since the judge’s campaign has completely ended, and his/her campaign committee has been disbanded. Moreover, because the envelope is sealed, the judge’s direct, personal involvement in returning the envelope will not create the impression the judge is aware of the details of any attempted contribution.1
Accordingly, as this judge has completed all post-election requirements to wind down and terminate his/her campaign, we conclude he/she may personally return the unopened envelope to the sender with the proposed explanatory statement. Although it would be inappropriate to use judicial letterhead (see Opinion 99-155 [judge may not use court stationery in a re-election campaign, even if marked “personal and unofficial”]), the judge may send the letter either on personal letterhead or, assuming he/she is within his/her six-month post-election window period, on campaign letterhead. It may also be personally signed by the judge.
1 The present inquiry does not require us to consider or address a judge’s inadvertently acquired knowledge of details of an attempted contribution (cf. Opinions 15-212; 10-135; 04-106).