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Ethics Opinion

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NOTE: Effective January 1, 2000, the "180-day Fundraising Period" in MCJC 7B(2)(c) has been replaced by a fund-raising period starting on February 15 of the year of the election.

JI-2

January 28, 1989

SYLLABUS

    A judicial candidate's campaign committee may solicit $100.00 or less from political action committees which are in fact an alter ego of a lawyer or a law firm.

    A judicial candidate's campaign committee may accept unsolicited money or in-kind campaign contributions from political action committees, unless the contribution appears to be motivated by a desire to have influence over the candidate.

    References: MCJC 7(B)(1)(a), 7(B)(2)(b), 7(B)(2)(c).

TEXT

A judge asks whether the solicitation and acceptance of substantial campaign contributions or acceptance of unsolicited money or in-kind contributions by a judicial candidate's campaign committee creates an appearance of impropriety.

Several provisions of the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct and various opinions of this Committee are applicable in deciding this question. MCJC 7(B)(1)(a) affirmatively requires that a judicial candidate maintain the dignity appropriate to that of the judicial office; MCJC 7(B)(2)(b) allows a candidate for judicial post to establish committees to solicit and manage campaign funds; MCJC 7(B)(2)(c) allows a candidates campaign committee to solicit contributions from lawyers not in excess of $100.00 per lawyer; CI-509 allows a judicial candidate's campaign committee to accept unsolicited campaign contributions from lawyers, in excess of $100.00, within 180 days of a primary election.

There is no logical distinction between the acceptance of unsolicited monetary contributions from lawyers and the acceptance of contributions from political action committees. No literal prohibition prevents the acceptance of contributions from political action committees. The $100 limit on solicitations for lawyers would apply if the political action committee were, in fact, the alter ego of a lawyer or law firm, i.e., a committee dominated or controlled by lawyers.

Unsolicited contributions may be accepted as long as the contribution is motivated by a desire to support election of the most qualified candidate, and not by a desire to have influence over the candidate. Contributions in-kind are treated the same as money contributions according to their value. See MCJC 5(C)(4)(c).

In Terrance J. Brook's article, Campaigning for Judicial Office: An Overview of the Ethical Constraints, he points out a New York ethics opinion (Opinion No. 289, 1973), which states that a judicial campaign committee should not accept an amount from a single source, other than the candidate or his/her family, which is so large as to foster an appearance that the donor is seeking favored treatment. The contribution of a larger sum might be misinterpreted as improperly intended, even if that is not the case, and although there is nothing unethical in a contribution of that size in and of itself. Implicit in such a contribution is the possibility that the donor is hoping to improve his or her or its reception in the courtroom.

Therefore, a judicial candidate's campaign committee may accept unsolicited money or in-kind campaign contributions from political action committees, unless the contribution appears to be motivated by a desire to have influence over the candidate.

 
     

 

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