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Key Excerpt: Cornyn and Sotomayor on Campaign Finance

Courtesy of CQ Transcriptions

SEN. CORNYN: Let me turn to another topic. In 1996, when you -- after you'd been on the federal bench for four years, you wrote a law review article -- the Suffolk University Law Review. And this pertains to campaign financing.

You said, quote, "Our system of election financing permits extensive private, including corporate, financing of candidates' campaigns raising again and again the question of whether -- of what the difference is between contributions and bribes and how legislators or other officials can operate objectively on behalf of the electorate."

You said, "Can elected officials say with credibility that they're carrying out the mandate of a democratic society representing only the generally public good when private money plays such a large role in their campaigns?"

Judge Sotomayor, what is the difference, to your mind, between a political contribution and a bribe?

JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: The context of that statement was a question about what was perking through the legal system at the time and has been, as you know, before the Supreme Court since Buckley v. Vallejo. In Buckley...

CORNYN: I -- I agree, Your Honor. But what -- my question is, what, in your mind, is the difference between a political contribution and a bribe?

SOTOMAYOR: The question is, is a contributor seeking to influence or to buy someone's vote? And there are situations in which elected officials have been convicted of taking a bribe because they have agreed in exchange for a sum of money to vote on a particular legislation in a particular way. That is -- violates the federal law.

The question that was discussed there was a much broader question as to, where do you draw that line as a society? What choices do you think about in terms of what -- what Congress will do, what politicians will do?

I've often spoken about the difference between what the law permits and what individuals should use to guide their conduct. The fact that the law says you can do this doesn't always mean that you as a person should choose to do this.

And, in fact, we operate within the law. You don't -- you should not be a lawbreaker. But you should act in situations according to that sense of what's right or wrong.

We had the recent case that the Supreme Court considered of the judge who was given an extraordinary amount of money by a campaign contributor, dwarfing everything else in his campaign in terms of contributions, funding a very expensive campaign.

Continue reading the exchange between Judge Sotomayor and Sen. Cornyn here.

By Washington Post editors  |  July 16, 2009; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Hearings , Supreme Court , Topics: Campaign Finance  
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