The Cap Times is after Supreme Court candidate Mike Gableman for "personally soliciting" contributions to his campaign. Gableman apparently had a personal message on the same page where one could make an on-line donation. One Wisconsin pronounces this "troubling."
The Judicial Code of Ethics prohibits candidates for judicial office from personally soliciting campaign contributions. It would pretty clearly be improper for a candidate to call and ask for a contribution or to write an individual letter seeking donations.
James Alexander of the Judicial Commission won't say that the site violated the rules but then is reported as having gone on to say that the prohibition is clear and that a personal solicitation is a personal solicitation. If the report is accurate, he is clearly signalling that he does think the rule was violated.
The rule may be uncomplicated, but whether that prohibition is violated by a message placed on a web site is quite another matter. Gableman's message was personal but was it a solicitation? Justice Butler's website also permits on-line contributions, although it, at least as of now, has a disclaimer that the request comes from "Friends of Louis Butler" and not from Justice Butler himself. That's a good lawyerly way to do it but does it really differ substantively from Gableman's site?
If the rule is designed to prevent donors from feeling pressured by a personal entreaty from a judge, is that concern implicated by a statement on a website? One can, I know, always fall back on that source of legal mischief - "the appearance of impropriety" - but that strikes me as lazy. Why does a canned statement that is directed to no one in particular and which conveys a message ("I want your support") that is implicit without it create a greater appearance of impropriety than setting up an organization that uses your name to actively solicit funds on your behalf?
Neither candidate has made a request for contributions directed to any particular individual or group. Both have allowed their name and image to be associated with a request for funds, although it's hard to imagine how anyone could raise money for a candidate without mentioning his or her name. Gableman's campaign has quite correctly modified the site to take down the message attributed to the candidate, but I think that the virtue in that is the avoidance of any technical questions rather than the avoidance of any real or apparent impropriety.