May spouse make political contributions from joint account; attendance at political functions as "private citizen" with or without spouse

May 22, 1996

Opinion 96-4


The Committee has reviewed your letter of March 19, 1996. You have asked whether certain activities are permissible in light of the general prohibition on political activity in Canon 6 of the Code of Professional Responsibility for Clerks of Courts of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Specifically, you indicate that your wife makes political contributions from a joint checking account in your names. You also ask if you may attend political functions "as a private citizen" with or without your wife.

The Code does prohibit all political "activity" by a Clerk Magistrate and specifically prohibits the solicitation of funds for a political organization or candidate, and public endorsement of a candidate for political office. Canons 6(2), (3). The Code does not prohibit such activity by a spouse or other family member. In addition, as we stated in opinion No. 90-1 , the Committee is of the opinion that the Code does not prohibit a contribution of funds, as opposed to a solicitation or public endorsement. Compare Canon 7(A)(1)(c) of the Code of Judicial Conduct. However, there may well be statutory provisions or other authorities which regulate this matter.

As we have previously stated in other opinions, appearance at a political function can be interpreted as an endorsement of that candidate. See opinions No. 90-1 , 95-4 . In opinion No. 94-4 (copy enclosed) we found that attendance at a political fundraiser of a candidate constitutes a public endorsement of a candidate, an activity which is specifically prohibited under Canon 6. Therefore, the Code would prohibit your attendance at such a function, with or without your wife. As we note in that opinion, "attendance at dances, testimonial dinners or other social events where some fundraising may occur must be weighed by each clerk magistrate on the merits of the occasion and the potential message that the attendance will broadcast."