Thus, although a judicial candidate's campaign committee may not simply donate to any organization or otherwise use campaign funds for the private benefit of the candidate or others (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[A]; Opinions 08-151 [campaign funds must not be donated to civic or charitable organizations]; 92-29 [Vol. IX] [campaign funds must not be donated to a bar association]), they may be used to purchase tickets to, and attend, non-political events during the candidate's post-election window period.
Question 3. Asking a Sitting Judge to Provide a Reference to a Political Party's Screening Panel: In Inquiry 12-95(E), a judicial candidate inquires whether it is ethically permissible for him/her to ask a sitting judge to provide an oral or written reference on the candidate's behalf directly to a political party's judicial screening panel, absent the panel's request.
A judicial candidate may appear before a political party's screening panel (see Opinion 11-64). Therefore, candidates must be permitted to provide a party screening panel with the names of individuals "who can meaningfully assess the [candidate's] qualifications, character and temperament" (id.); and, in the Committee's view, the public can only benefit when such individuals are also "familiar with the legal system" (id.). Clearly, sitting judges are not only familiar with the legal system but are likely well-situated to observe conduct that is relevant to a potential judicial candidate's qualifications, competence, character, and temperament. Thus, there is every reason to permit a judicial candidate to provide a political party's screening panel with the names of sitting judges as references, if the candidate wishes to do so.
The committee has advised that a sitting judge may respond to inquiries from an Independent Judicial Election Qualification Commission or a bar association judicial candidate evaluation committee about qualifications of candidates for elective judicial office (see Opinions 08-160; 07-130). Where the judge does not volunteer his/her opinion, but merely responds directly to a screening panel's request, the committee concluded that the judge's comment "does not constitute a public endorsement of or opposition to the candidate, and does not otherwise constitute prohibited political activity" (Opinion 07-130).
In the committee's view, the same principles apply when a sitting judge responds to an inquiry from a political party's screening panel concerning the qualifications of a particular judicial candidate. In responding to the request, the judge "should draw from his/her personal knowledge of the potential judicial candidate" and "should neither urge approval nor disapproval of a candidate" (Opinion 08-160). To avoid any appearance that the sitting judge is engaging in impermissible political activity, such as publicly endorsing or opposing a judicial candidate (see 22 NYCRR 100.5[A][e]), the judge's comments should be made solely in response to a direct request from the party's screening panel and should be addressed only to the requesting panel.
In light of these restrictions, the committee concludes that a judicial candidate should not ask sitting judges to write to a political party's screening panel but, instead, should give the panel names of sitting judges the candidate wishes the panel to contact (see generally 22 NYCRR 100.5[A][a] [a judicial candidate must act in a manner consistent with the impartiality, integrity and independence of judicial office]; Opinion 08-64 [a judicial candidate may not use quotations from letters of individuals who are subject to Section 100.5 in his/her judicial campaign]).
Question 4. Providing Free Admission to a Fundraising Event: In Inquiry 12-95(F), a judge who is within his/her window period for re-election states that certain local political leaders and non-judicial elected officials at the state and local level have agreed to serve on the "honorary committee" for the judge's fundraising event. Tickets to the judge's fundraiser are $500, and the judge asks whether he/she may permit members of the honorary committee to attend the event for free.
In the committee's view, there are many legitimate reasons why a judicial candidate may wish to invite some individuals to attend his/her fundraiser without charge (a practice frequently referred to as providing complimentary admission or "comping") in furtherance of his/her judicial campaign. For example, the candidate may be acting out of courtesy or friendship, or the candidate may hope that the individual's presence at the fundraiser will encourage others to attend, or attendees to contribute more generously to the candidate's campaign. The committee, therefore, concludes there is no ethical impediment to the long-standing practice of "comping" attendees to the candidate's own fundraiser, and the practice does not constitute a prohibited contribution for purposes of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct, even if some of the "comped" individuals are currently running for election themselves (cf. 22 NYCRR 100.5[A][h]).7
Question 5. Linking to a Political Organization's Website: In Inquiry 12-95(G), a judicial candidate asks whether his/her campaign website may link to the site of a political party that has endorsed the judge and includes the judge/candidate's profile.
The committee has previously advised that a judicial candidate may include links to published newspaper articles about him/herself on a campaign website, provided that nothing in the article is misleading and provided the article maintains the dignity of judicial office (see Opinion 07-135).