Legal Ethics Opinion No. 1421

     Improper Influence--Contact With Officials: Attorney Who
Regularly Practices In Circuit Court Contributing To Circuit
Court              Clerk's Re-Election Campaign

You have indicated that an attorney who regularly practices with
the Circuit Court Clerk wishes to make contributions to the
Clerk's re-election campaign. 

You have asked the committee to opine whether, under the facts of
the inquiry, such a campaign contribution to a public official,
by a lawyer or law firm who regularly deals with that official,
would constitute a per se violation of improperly influencing
that public official if there exist no underlying circumstances
suggesting that the lawyer may improperly influence that public

The appropriate and controlling disciplinary rule relative to
your inquiry is DR 7-l09(A) which mandates, in pertinent part,
that a lawyer shall not give anything of value to a judge,
official, or employee of a tribunal under circumstances which
might give the appearance that the gift or loan is made to
influence official action.  Further guidance is available in
Ethical Consideration 7-3l which speaks to the impairment of the
impartiality of a legal system's public servant by the receipt of
gifts or loans, and further exhorts that "[a] never
justified in making a
gift or a loan to a judge, hearing officer, or an official or
employee of a tribunal under circumstances which might give the
appearance that the gift or loan is made to influence official
action". [emphasis added] 

The committee has previously opined that it is improper for an
attorney to make a gift to a public official for the past or
future performance of any public act or duty.  See LEO #279. 
Conversely, LEO #893 found that it was not per se improper for
employees of a law firm to give edible Christmas gifts valued at
less than ten dollars to employees of a circuit court clerk's
office since a normal holiday gift of that amount, to be divided
among several employees, would not amount to a gift of such value
as might give the appearance that it was made to influence
official action.  Recently, the committee has opined that, while
it is not per se improper for law firms to set up political
action committees (PACs) for the purpose of contributing to
election campaigns of members of Congress, the question of
whether the establishment of such PACs by lawyers or law firms is
done for the purpose of suggesting to clients the lawyer's intent
to exert improper influence on the recipient of such
contributions requires a factual determination beyond the purview
of the committee.  See LEO #l360.

The committee is of the opinion that, while campaign
contributions made by attorneys to court officials before whom
they practice are not per se improper, it is preferable for such
contributions to be made to the official's campaign committee
rather than directly to the candidate.  See ABA Formal Op. 226
(July l2, l94l).  The committee is of the further opinion that
specific factual circumstances may render such contributions
improper should they create an appearance that they have been
made for the purpose of influencing official action.  See, e.g.,
In re Ellis, 20 N.E.2d 96 (Ill. l939) (attorney suspended for two
years for having made contributions to campaign funds, out of
fees received from a specific client, in exchange for favorable
rulings on client's tax matters).

Committee Opinion
October 3, 1991