Fundraising by judges can be a tricky business. Judges may participate in activities outside the court, but many charitable and civic-minded organizations rely upon donations from the public to run. Participation in worthwhile organizations that depend on fundraising for support is a continuing dilemma for judges.
First, an elected judge may raise funds for election, if following applicable election finance laws. Canon 7; Office of Court Administration Judicial Ethics Opinion 55 (1981). However, a judge may not hold a fundraiser for operating or living expenses. Op. 55 (1981); Canon 5, 4b(1).
Canon 4C of the Code of Judicial Conduct describes a judge’s appropriate participation in extra-judicial activities. A judge may participate in civic and charitable activities that do not reflect adversely upon the judge’s impartiality or interfere with the performance of the judge’s duties. This includes serving in a leadership capacity in such an organization. However, Canon 4C(2) of the Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits any type of participation, or lending the prestige of judicial office, in soliciting funds no matter how worthy the purpose. Op. 58. A judge should not solicit funds for any educational, religious, charitable, fraternal, political, or civic organization or use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for that purpose. A judge should not be a speaker or guest of honor at a fundraising event, but may attend such events. There is a further restriction, that a judge should not serve if it is likely that the organization will be engaged in proceedings that would ordinarily come before that judge’s court, or be regularly engaged in adversarial proceedings in any court.
There is one exception, however. A judge may raise funds for an organization that is “devoted to the improvement of the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice.” Even in raising funds under this exception, a judge should still be guided by Canons 1 and 2, and should be clear that such participation is as an authorized representative of the organization, and not for the judge personally.