TEXAS ETHICS COMMISSION
ETHICS ADVISORY OPINION NO. 222
September 9, 1994
Whether political contributions may be used to pay costs incurred in responding to a grievance filed with the State Bar alleging violations in connection with campaign material. (AOR-248)
The Texas Ethics Commission has been asked whether an individual may use political contributions to pay attorney fees incurred in responding to a grievance filed with the State Bar Association. The grievance alleges that the use of certain printed material during a campaign violated the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct and the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.
A person who accepts a political contribution as a candidate or officeholder may not convert the contribution to personal use. Elec. Code § 253.035(a). "Personal use" is "a use that primarily furthers individual or family purposes not connected with the performance of duties or activities as a candidate for or holder of a public office." Id. § 253.035(d). Personal use specifically does not include the use of contributions for "defending a criminal action or prosecuting or defending a civil action brought by or against the person in his status as a candidate or officeholder." Id. § 253.035(i)(1).
In the present case, the grievance filed before the State Bar is a civil action brought against the respondent for alleged violations of provisions governing conduct as a candidate. Accordingly, political contributions may be used to defray the costs of responding to the grievance. See Ethics Advisory Opinions Nos. 206 (1994) (individual may use political funds to pay late filing penalty assessed under title 15 of Election Code), 105 (1992) (individual may use political funds to pay legal expenses if legal action arises directly from activities as a candidate and costs were incurred because of status as candidate).
A person may use political contributions to defend a grievance filed before the State Bar if the grievance is in regard to the person's conduct as a candidate.