Justice Newby makes questionable contribution to joint candidate committee

NC Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby made a contribution to a joint candidate committee for four Wake County Republican candidates for county commissioner. The contribution may have violated a section of the NC Code of Judicial Conduct which limits the political activity of judges. The joint candidate committee is called United 4 Wake and campaign filings show that contributions are to be allocated equally, with each candidate, Paul Coble, Rich Gianni, Phil Matthews and Joe Bryan to receive 25%. Newby made a donation 9/20/2014 of $150. A 3/24/2014 memo from the NC Judicial Standards Commission in advance of the campaign season provided information regarding permissible and prohibited political conduct.

Permissible Political Conduct
All judges may:
1) attend and speak at various political events, conventions, and fund raisers for candidates for public office. Mere attendance at a candidate’s campaign event or fund raiser will not be construed as a public endorsement of that candidate. A judge may also be listed or noted as a speaker within any publicity relating to such an event, however, while at the event the judge may not endorse a candidate (other than himself/herself) or expressly solicit funds from the audience (other than for himself/herself). (Canon 7B(1))
2) identify himself/herself as a member of a political party. (Canon 7B(3))
3) make financial contributions to a political party or organization, however a candidate’s campaign committee is not a “political organization” within the meaning of Canon 7B(3). (In re Wright, 313 N.C. 495 (1985))

Prohibited Political Conduct
All judges may not:
1) solicit funds for a political organization, political party, nor any candidate seeking election to any office, other than himself/herself or as part of a joint judicial campaign. (Canons 7B(3) and 7C(1))
2) make a financial contributions or loans to any individual seeking election to any office, other than himself/herself or a joint judicial campaign. This prohibition includes donations to candidates who are related to the judge. If attending a fund raising event for an individual candidate or group of candidates, a judge may pay no more than the reasonable cost of any food and beverage provided. (Canon 7B(3))

A joint fundraising committee for a specific limited number of candidates would not ordinarily be considered an organization. Contributions to such committees are considered to be contributions to individual candidates allocated by pre-determined formula and according to NC election law the apportioned amount counts towards limits on contributions by the donor to each candidate. Newby was elected with the help of $2.3 million in outside money, but $150 may be his undoing.

Canon 7B(3) is a specific section of the NC Code of Judicial Conduct. The referenced case (In re Wright, 313 N.C. 495 (1985) is In re: Inquiry Concerning, a Judge, No. 84, Paul M. Wright.

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