NOTE: Various references in this ethics opinion to portions of the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct are no longer accurate due to amendments effective August 1, 2013. Click here to review language added to (which is underlined) and language stricken from (which is indicated by strikethrough) Canons 2, 4, 5, and 7.
July 7, 1989
There is no ethical limitation to the dollar amount of voluntary campaign contributions from a lawyer member of a judicial candidate's family.
A judicial candidate's campaign committee should first repay loans to other creditors before repaying loans made by the candidate to his committee.
A judicial candidate may not permit others to voluntarily pay campaign creditors after the election.
A candidate, successful or not, may not accept contributions after the election from friends or relatives to retire campaign debts.
References: MCJC 2, 5(C)(4), 7(B); MRPC 8.2(b); JI-2; CI-509, CI-531, CI-987; MCLA 169.252.
The Committee has been asked questions about judicial campaign financing as follows:
- Is there a dollar amount on the contributions from a lawyer member of a judicial candidate's family?
- If a candidate loans funds to the campaign committee, is repayment of that loan prior to repayment of other creditors proper? First in first out?
- A candidate may not accept help after the election to repay campaign debts, but may someone voluntarily pay a campaign creditor directly?
- May an unsuccessful candidate accept unsolicited contributions after the election from friends or relatives to retire the campaign debt?
MCJC 7B(2)(A)(B) is clear: To solicit and accept funds a candidate must establish committees which can solicit no more than $100 per lawyer. The Code imposes no dollar limitation on voluntary contributions from lawyers or others whether or not contributors are related to the candidate, JI-2. MCLA 169.252 imposes a limit of $1,700 from political action committees and individuals; the statute imposes no limitations on contributions to candidates for other judicial offices.
The issue of whether a candidate's loan is repaid by the campaign committee before all others is novel and without precedent. Though it is proper for a candidate to loan the committee monies and be later reimbursed from its funds (CI-987) we believe that establishing first priority to those funds violates the spirit if not the language of MCJC 7B where a candidate ". . . should maintain the dignity appropriate to judicial office . . . should not use or permit the use of campaign contributions for the private benefit of himself, . . . return to the contributors funds raised in excess of the actual costs incurred . . ." and MCJC 2 where a judge must ". . . avoid all impropriety and appearance of impropriety."
We believe the circumstance of first priority repayment gives the appearance of private benefit to the candidate to the exclusion of other lenders or contributors, particularly where shortfall results.
Lastly, it is clear campaign debts must be retired by funds solicited or accepted within the time frames outlined in MCJC 7B and ceasing on election day. To permit anyone to pay the just campaign debts directly to campaign creditors circumvents MCJC 7B to accomplish indirectly what it cannot do directly, i.e., accept post-election funds, and is thus forbidden. This applies to any candidate, whether successful or not, regardless whether the willing donor is a stranger, friend, or relative. Since a candidate must act through his committee and a candidate ". . . may not solicit or accept funds after the date of the general election," contributions from friends or relatives on or after election day may constitute a gift or loan prohibited by MCJC 5(C)(4), and is likewise proscribed.