The Committee on Judicial Ethics has increased to $1,000 from $150 the threshold for which unexpended judicial campaign funds must be returned to contributors on a pro rata basis. Now, funds totaling less than $1,000, rather than less than $150, are deemed "de minimus" and may be used for any legal, non-political purpose related to the judicial office, such as office supplies and computer software, the committee said. However, left-over campaign monies cannot be used for private purposes, donated to a charity or political organization or candidate, or used to cover outstanding debts from a prior campaign.
Opinion 12-95, which appears on page 6 of the print edition of today's Law Journal, arose after a recently elected judicial candidate asked the panel to reconsider its more than decade-old opinion (99-71) that said judicial candidates had to make a reasonable effort to return to donors unexpended campaign donations of $150 or more. In response, the committee overruled and modified prior opinions to increase the threshold to $1,000. "In the committee's view, unexpended campaign funds totaling less than $1,000 need not be returned to contributors on a pro rata basis but, rather, may be expended for any lawful non-political purpose connected with judicial office," the panel said.