The Judicial Qualifications Commission has been asked for an Advisory Opinion as to whether a candidate for a judicial office can reimburse himself for campaign expenditures from surplus campaign contributions at the conclusion of the campaign without violating Canon 4.
Rule 4.2(B) expressly states that:
…Judicial candidates, including incumbent judges, shall not use or permit the use of campaign contributions for the private benefit of themselves or members of their families.
In the question propounded, it is suggested that a judge who reimburses himself from surplus campaign funds contributed by others cannot be said to be using them for his own benefit so long as the amount so appropriated does not exceed the amount of his own campaign expenditures.
Use of such surplus funds to repay a judicial candidate for nothing more than contingent up front advances and loans made by him to his campaign committee pending receipt of adequate campaign contributions would be permissible and would not, in the opinion of the Commission, constitute a violation of Canon 4.
At the same time, a judge should be conscious of the admonition of Canon 1 that “Judges should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all their activities.” For that reason, before using such surplus funds for such a purpose, a judge should take special care to be sure that existing documentation justifies this use and that the documentation is preserved and that all reporting requirements of the Campaign Financial Disclosure Act (O.C.G.A. § 21-5-1 et seq.) are fully complied with.
[Pertinent Code of Judicial Conduct provisions: Rules 1.2(B), 2.4(C), 4.1, 4.2. Cross reference to other relevant opinions for review: #5, #22, #41, #56, #85.]