October 24, 2019
Digest: A judicial candidate may pay his/her proportionate share of the actual expenses for a “petition signing party,” at which modest and reasonable refreshments are served, for the purpose of assembling registered voters to sign petitions, provided he/she concludes the campaign will receive fair value for the expenditure. However, the candidate must only circulate or request signatures on petitions as permitted by prior opinions.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.5(A)(1)(c)-(e), (h); 100.5(A)(2); 100.5(A)(6); 100.6(A); Opinions 18-167; 18-105; 15-145; 12-129(A)-(G); 10-101/11-01; 09-148; 02-64; 98-99.
A candidate for election to Family Court asks if he/she may participate in a petition-signing party with other candidates for judicial and non-judicial office, where all hosting candidates would share the expenses for extremely modest and reasonable refreshments. The signing party would not be a fund-raiser but would be similar to a free meet-and-greet with the purpose of assembling voters to sign petitions.1 A variety of individual and joint petitions, including those naming the judicial candidate, would be made available for signature at the event.
A judge or non-judge candidate for elective judicial office “shall comply” with applicable sections of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct in connection with his/her judicial campaign (22 NYCRR 100.6[A]). A judicial candidate may participate in his/her own campaign for elective judicial office during the applicable window period, subject to certain limitations (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[A]). For example, a judicial candidate may not pay an assessment to, or make a contribution to, a political organization or any other candidate (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[A][h]) and “may not permit the use of campaign contributions or personal funds to pay for campaign-related goods or services for which fair value was not received” (22 NYCRR 100.5[A]). Nor may he/she publicly endorse any other candidates or participate in any other candidate’s campaign for any public office (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[A][c]-[e]).
While this is a matter of first impression for us, we believe two lines of prior opinions provide important guidance. First, we have said a judicial candidate in his/her window period may hold a free “meet and greet” event at which modest and reasonable refreshments are served (see Opinion 12-129[A]-[G], Question 2 & fn 2 [candidate must be “guided by considerations of modesty and reasonableness in the provision of ordinary social hospitality”]). Indeed, he/she may pay his/her proportionate share of the actual expenses for such an event with four candidates for non-judicial office, where two of these candidates are invited as guests and will not share in the expenses, provided he/she concludes the campaign will receive fair value for the expenditure (see Opinion 18-167).
Second, because passing petitions constitutes partisan political activity under the Rules (see Opinion 15-145), a candidate seeking election to any judicial office other than Supreme Court may only pass joint or individual petitions containing his/her own name (id.; see also Opinions 09-148; 02-64; 98-99).2 As this candidate is seeking election to Family Court, he/she may further his/her own campaign by carrying joint and/or individual petitions that name him/her and requesting signatures on such petitions (see Opinion 15-145). By contrast, this candidate may not pass individual or joint petitions that do not contain his/her name as one of the candidates to be designated or nominated or otherwise request signatures for other candidates when the petition does not include his/her own name (see id. [citing prior opinions]; 22 NYCRR 100.5[A][c]-[e]).
Here, we conclude a judicial candidate may participate in a free “petition signing party” with both judicial and nonjudicial candidates, in order to gather registered voters to sign petitions, and may pay his/her proportionate share of the actual expenses, including modest and reasonable refreshments. For example, if the judicial candidate and two members of his/her slate co-sponsor the event, the judicial candidate should not pay more than one-third of the expenses (e.g. Opinion 18-167).
If there are individual or joint petitions at the event that do not contain the candidate’s name, the candidate must not request signatures for those petitions (see Opinion 15-145). He/she must only request signatures for individual or joint petitions bearing his/her own name (id.).3
Finally, we recognize that the judicial candidate cannot necessarily control the conduct of third parties. If other candidates or party leaders choose to circulate the petitions of a few candidates who are not co-sponsoring the event, this does not render a judicial candidate’s participation impermissible, provided he/she concludes his/her own campaign will receive fair value for the expenditure (see Opinion 18-167; 22 NYCRR 100.5[A]).4
1 The proposed event affords candidates the opportunity to obtain numerous required signatures in a centralized location, likely helping increase safety and reduce inconvenience associated with passing petitions door-to-door in inclement weather.
2A candidate seeking election to Supreme Court may pass petitions for certain delegate candidates to further his/her own candidacy, as permitted by prior opinions (see Opinions 18-105; 10-101/11-01). The “special challenges of the Supreme Court nomination process” have resulted in “one narrow exception to the rule against publicly endorsing other candidates” (Opinion 18-105), and we have “cautiously provided guidance on the practical implications” on a case-by-case basis (id. [internal quotation marks omitted]). However, the exception permitting Supreme Court candidates to pass petitions for certain delegate candidates is inapplicable here, as this candidate is seeking election to Family Court.
3 Again, this candidate is seeking election to Family Court, not Supreme Court.
4 We anticipate that basic expenses such as room rental and refreshments are unlikely to be substantially affected if someone places an additional group of petitions on another candidate’s table.