August 18, 1997
A judge or judicial candidate may make a general contribution to a political action committee. No ethics provision prohibits a group of judges, or a judges' organization, from making contributions to political action committees under the same conditions permitted to individual judges.
References: MCJC 7A(1)(b) and (2)(c); JI-30; JTC A/O 13, JTC A/O 24, JTC A/O 25, JTC A/O 52, JTC A/O 55, JTC A/O 60, JTC A/O 108.
The Committee is asked whether a judge may make contributions to a political action committee [PAC] which the judge knows will be sending funds to legislative candidates, and if so, whether a group of judges, such as a judges' organization, may pool their resources to make a contribution to the PAC.
MCJC 7A(1)(b) prohibits a judge from publicly endorsing a candidate for nonjudicial office. Since the Code explicitly prohibits endorsements for nonjudicial candidates and is silent on endorsements of judicial candidates, it is well accepted that judges may endorse, and therefore contribute to and participate in the campaigns of, judicial candidates, as long as the judge does not engage in solicitation of funds. See JTC A/O 13, JTC A/O 24, JTC A/O 52, JTC A/O 55, JTC A/O 108.
MCJC 7A(2)(c) allows a judge to contribute to a political party. A contribution to a political party may be used to support party functions, such as general fundraisers, or may be used to support candidates of the party's choice. There is nothing in the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct which suggests that a contributor to the political party must control the spending of the contribution or otherwise earmark the funds for certain purposes. Any financial contribution to the party generally, as opposed to a contribution to a particular candidate, is permitted.
We note that a political action committee or "PAC" may support judicial candidates or nonjudicial candidates. The question becomes whether a contribution to a political action committee is more akin to an "endorsement" of a nonjudicial candidate, and therefore prohibited, or whether it is akin to a contribution to a political party and therefore permitted. JTC A/O 60 concluded that MCJC 7 does not preclude a judge from making campaign contributions directly to candidates for nonjudicial office. In JTC A/O 25, the Judicial Tenure Commission was asked whether a judge may purchase fund raising tickets, make campaign contributions, and sign nominating petitions for a candidate for nonjudicial office. The opinion concluded that the activity does not constitute public endorsement in violation of MCJC 7A(1)(b).
In JI-30 we addressed various types of activities which may be conducted by judges or judicial candidates on behalf of nonjudicial candidates, which activities do not constitute impermissible public endorsements. The opinion distinguishes behind the scenes activities and public endorsements as follows:
"The second group of questions deals with the nature of active campaigning a judge may volunteer for a nonjudicial candidate. Many campaign activities are performed behind the scenes, e.g., stuffing envelopes, voter registration drives, placing ads, writing speeches. A judge is not prohibited from participating in this type of activity for a nonjudicial candidate. Other types of activity of a 'public' nature are prohibited, i.e., giving speeches, handing out campaign literature, displaying bumper stickers, signing letters and soliciting votes."
Based upon these authorities, we conclude that a judge or judicial candidate may make a contribution to a political action committee. There is no provision in the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct which prohibits a group of judges, or a judges' organization, from making contributions to political action committees under the same conditions permitted to individual judges.