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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NOTE: Effective January 1, 2000, the "180-day Fundraising Period" in MCJC 7B(2)(c) has been replaced by a fund-raising period starting on February 15 of the year of the election.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-14

October 12, 1989

SYLLABUS

    A judge may not be a member of the campaign committee of another judge, or candidate for judicial office.

    A judge may not act in the capacity of treasurer, either as a member of the campaign committee or otherwise, for another judge or candidate for judicial office.

    A judge may be a member of a "planning committee" of another judge or candidate for judicial office, provided the "planning committee" is separate and apart from any campaign committee and that distinction is clearly delineated, and that the sole functions of the "planning committee" are to plan the strategies for the campaign for the judicial office.

    References: MCJC 7A(2), 7B(2)(a), (b) and (c), 7B(3).

TEXT

An incumbent judge is seeking re-election, and wishes to know what limitations, if any, exist to restrict another judge's involvement in the re-election campaign. More particularly the judge wishes to know if another judge may be on a "planning committee," or be designated as treasurer of the campaign committee if that judge does not directly solicit contributions.

MCJC 7A(2) states:

    "(2) A judge or candidate for judicial office may:

      "(a) attend political gatherings;

      "(b) speak to such gatherings on his own behalf or on behalf of other judicial candidates;

      "(c) contribute to a political party."

Further, MCJC 7B(2) states:

    "(2) A candidate, including an incumbent judge, for a judicial office:

      "(a) Should not himself solicit or accept campaign funds, or solicit publicly stated support by improper use of his office in violation of B (1)(c).

      "(b) He may establish committees of responsible persons to secure and manage the expenditure of funds for his campaign and to obtain public statements of support for his candidacy.

      "(c) Such committees are prohibited from soliciting campaign contributions from lawyers in excess of $100 per lawyer, but may solicit public support from lawyers. A candidate's committee may solicit funds for his campaign no earlier than 180 days before a primary election or nominating convention and may not solicit or accept funds after the date of the general election. A candidate should not use or permit the use of campaign contributions for the private benefit of himself or members of his family.

      ". . .

    "(3) No judge should himself sell or permit any court or public employee working for or assigned to any court to sell fund-raising tickets or accept contributions of any kind on his behalf or on behalf of any other judicial candidate."

It appears rigid restrictions are placed upon a candidate for judicial office, incumbent or otherwise. A judge or candidate for judicial office may attend political gatherings, speak at such gatherings for himself or another judicial candidate and may make contributions to a political party, but a candidate, including an incumbent judge, may not solicit any funds. Campaign financing activities may be conducted only by a campaign committee. The candidate may publicly and privately solicit support of individuals and organizations so long as such solicitation is not an improper use of his office in violation of MCJC 7B(1)(c).

It is clear from reading MCJC 7B(2)(b) that the only purposes of the campaign committee are the raising of funds and the management and expenditure of those funds during the campaign, together with the additional function of obtaining "public statements of support" for the judge's candidacy. MCJC 7B(3) clearly indicates that no judge can accept contributions of any kind "on his behalf or on behalf of any other judicial candidate."

Therefore it follows that because one of the primary functions of a campaign committee is the solicitation and acceptance of campaign funds, that a judge is prohibited from serving as a member of the campaign committee of another person seeking judicial office. It naturally follows, a judge is prohibited from acting as treasurer of a campaign committee, when the judge is prohibited from serving on that committee.

We believe that a judge being a member of a "planning committee" for a judicial candidate would not be in violation of MCJC 7, provided the committee is separate and distinct from the candidate's campaign committee, and is clearly differentiated, as such. To hold otherwise would be an abridgment of the First Amendment rights under the United States Constitution, of the candidate and the judge sitting on the "planning committee." The "planning committee" must only be involved in planning strategies for a proposed campaign.

 
     

 

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