In December 2008, Surrogate – elect Nora Anderson was indicted for allegedly failing to properly report at least a quarter of a million dollars in campaign contributions. While Ms. Anderson contended that this money came from her own personal funds, prosecutors have alleged that the true source of the contributions was Seth Rubinstein, her eighty two year old law partner and mentor. According to theNew York Times, this case raises some unusual questions about what happens when funds claimed as gifts are utilized in a campaign.
Ms. Anderson’s defense team has argued that the funds given to her by law partner as a "gift" belonged to her to do with them as she wished. She could have spent them on a new (very expensive ) car or set of golf clubs or she could have applied them legally to her own campaign for election. While the surrogate-elect is accused of falsely submitting reports of campaign contributions, she quite properly points out that judicial candidates are carefully screened from learning the identity of those giving contributions or of the amounts contributed inasmuch as many of the contributors are also lawyers who practice before the court daily. She therefore disclaims any actual knowledge of the contents of the reports which were actually made and submitted by her campaign staff.
The Times points out that the real underlying question here is whether or not judges may use funds given or loaned to them by their friends in their election campaigns. There appears to be considerable disagreement on how this should be answered and one sure issue rising out of this case is that of campaign finance reform in New York. Given, however, that New York has a legislature with an uncanny ability to accomplish absolutely nothing of merit for months at a time (please do not get your faithful lawblogger started on this one!). it is unlikely that this could be achieved in the current millennium.