Opinion No. 1991-3

(Inquiry No. 259 )

Campaign donations to judicial candidates.

An attorney is not prohibited from donating to the campaign of a judicial candidate even if the fact of his donation may corne to the attention of the candidate.

Code Provisions:
DR 7-110
EC 7-34

Described Facts:
Inquiring counsel is aware of this Committee’s combined Opinions 22-87 and 28-87 which generally recognize the propriety of lawyers’ giving financial support to the political campaigns of judicial candidates. He asks, however, whether donations are improper if the fact of the donation is likely to become known to the candidate because the donors attend fund-raising affairs.

May a lawyer who contributes to the campaign of a judicial candidate attend that candidate’s fund raising affair if said attendance puts the candidate on notice of said attorneys’ contribution?

A lawyer is not prohibited from attending a political fundraising affair of a judicial candidate.

A lawyer may make a contribution to the campaign fund of a candidate for judicial office in conformity with the requirements of the Code of JUdicial Conduct, which applies not only to judges, but to candidates for judicial office. (DR 7-110 and EC 7-34) Opinion 189(4/27/83) of the New York State Bar Association recognizes that this rule promotes participation in the process by lawyers who may be in the best position to assess the qualifications of candidates. That opinion warns that the identity of donors should not be disclosed to candidates any more than necessary, but it recognizes that election laws may require disclosure of the names of donors. It merely warns judicial candidates not to pursue this information.

Inquiring counsel is concerned that attendance at political fundraising activities is certain to alert a judicial candidate to the identity of his campaign donors. Not everyone who attends a fundraising affair has in fact donated to the campaign, and not everyone who donates attends affairs. So long as neither the lawyer nor the candidate discuss or act upon the fact of the donation the lawyer is not prohibited from attending a political affair, even if his attendance suggests that he is a financial contributor to a particular judicial campaign.

The problems that may arise if a lawyer who has contributed to a judge’s campaign appears before that judge are treated in Opinion 90-182 of the Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics as to the Judge’s conduct.

The above stated inquiry is answered in the affirmative.

(Approved by Executive Subcommittee February 26, 1991; approved by Full Committee February 27, 1991)