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1989-8: Expenditure Limits for Certain Legal Services

Wednesday, January 25, 1989

An opinion has been requested whether certain services performed for a candidate are a contribution within the meaning of New York City Administrative Code §3-702(8). The following hypothetical situation has been described:

P, a partner at law firm LF, has been the candidate's friend and lawyer for a number of years, and is volunteering to provide legal advice to the candidate as to compliance with the Campaign Finance Act and the New York Election Law. Associate A at law firm LF is interested in working on the legal aspects of the campaign and proposes to volunteer his time if his employer, LF, will give him time off to do so without reducing his compensation. LF has a program of encouraging young lawyers to participate in public and pro bono activity, and believes that the experience of working on the legal aspects of the candidate's campaign would be of educational benefit to A. Accordingly, LF allows A to volunteer his time to provide legal advice to assist the candidate in complying with the act and the election law. Neither P nor A will receive any compensation from the candidate for these legal services, and the compensation P and A would otherwise receive from LF will not be affected by virtue of the volunteer services they provided to the candidate.

Section 3-702(8) of the Administrative Code provides that the term "contribution" includes:

any payment, by any person other than a candidate...made in connection with the nomination for election, or election, of any candidate, including but not limited to compensation for the personal services of any individual which are rendered in connection with a candidate's election or nomination without charge...the term "contribution" shall not include:

(i) the value of services provided without compensation by individuals who volunteer a portion or all of their time on behalf of a candidate or political committee...

It is the opinion of the Board that the value of the legal advice given by P without compensation would not be a contribution. However, to the extent that P does not merely provide this advice as an individual, but utilizes support services available at LF, the question is raised whether the lawyers, secretaries, paralegals, and others assisting P in providing the legal advice are volunteering their time or are being compensated. If compensated by LF, the personal services of these other individuals assisting P in providing the legal advice would be a contribution by LF. In addition, the value of LF's goods and services provided to the candidate by P is not exempt from the definition of a "contribution", unless the candidate pays LF its usual and normal charge for these goods and services.

The hypothetical situation described implies that A is rendering personal services to the candidate as part of his pro bono work for LF. Because A's compensation is not reduced to account for the time he volunteers to the candidate, LF would be compensating A for these volunteer services, and therefore making a contribution to the candidate. If, however, A volunteers his own time to the candidate, over and above what he normally devotes to the work of LF (including pro bono matters) he may of course do so, and his compensation by LF in those circumstance would not be a contribution by LF to the candidate. LF must be able to show, however, that A has continued to devote, over a reasonable period, the equivalent of an associate's hours at LF.