May 10, 2018
Digest: Subject to compliance with all applicable rules and statutes, a judicial candidate may permit a member of his/her campaign committee to manage a private GoFundMe account to raise contributions for the campaign, provided (1) the candidate is insulated from knowing who contributed and (2) such contributions are properly reported by the campaign treasurer.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.0(Q); 100.5(A)(1)(h); 100.5(A)(2); 100.5(A)(2)(I); 100.5(A)(5); Opinions 13-126; 08-125/08-147/08-148/08-149; 07-135.
A sitting judge who is currently within his/her window period for election or re-election to judicial office asks if his/her campaign committee may use a private GoFundMe account to raise money for the campaign online.1 The candidate’s campaign treasurer received a written letter from the state board of elections permitting the use of a GoFundMe Account for campaign fund-raising, subject to certain conditions.2 Consistent with the letter, a supporter of the judge will be responsible for managing the account and collecting and forwarding the contributions to the campaign treasurer along with the donor’s name and address for reporting purposes.
In general, a judicial candidate shall not directly or indirectly engage in political activity, except for participating in his/her own campaign for judicial office (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[A]). A judicial candidate must not personally solicit or accept campaign contributions from any source (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[A][h]; 100.5[A][I]), but may establish a campaign committee to solicit and accept reasonable campaign contributions during the applicable window period (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[A]; 100.0[Q] [defining “window period”]).
A candidate may invite “‘responsible persons’ who will abide by applicable laws and ethical rules” to serve on his/her campaign committee (Opinion 08-125/08-147/08-148/08-149; see also 22 NYCRR 100.5[A]). Moreover, “judicial candidates should be shielded, to the extent possible, from learning the identity of campaign contributors and the amount or value of their contributions” (see Opinion 08-125/08-147/08-148/08-149).
The Rules Governing Judicial Conduct apply equally when campaign activities or solicitations occur online (see e.g. Opinions 13-126; 07-135). For example, a judicial candidate may authorize his/her campaign committee to solicit campaign contributions on a website it sponsors, provided the contributors are directed to send all donations to the campaign committee and not to the candidate him/herself (see Opinion 07-135).
Here, we conclude the judicial candidate may permit a member of his/her campaign committee to manage a private GoFundMe account to raise contributions for the campaign, provided the candidate is insulated from knowing who contributed, such contributions are properly reported by the campaign treasurer, and there is compliance with the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct and the Election Law.
1 The “private” GoFundMe account “will not be open to the general public” but only to former high school classmates directly solicited by the judge’s long-time friend.
2 For example, the board of elections said the campaign committee must not permit any “anonymous contributions,” because “[y]ou must still disclose the name and address of each contributor.”