State Sen. Kenneth P. LaValle, a Republican, and Democratic challenger Bridget Fleming debated in East Hampton on Monday night on a range of topics from mandate relief to pension reform to job creation.
But perhaps the biggest difference between the two candidates revolved around the topic of outside campaign cash locals have seen fly into the district during the 2012 election cycle — most of which pays for those campaign fliers filling up many voters' mailboxes.
On Monday it was reported that outside spending in the form of super PACs, state and national committees and other sources have topped $3 million in the First Congressional District race, which covers the First State Senate District and more.
A landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2010 — commonly known as "Citizens United" — has allowed more outside funding to flow nationwide and concentrate in certain toss-up areas, prohibiting government regulation of independent political spending by corporations and unions alike.
Speaking at the Emergency Services Center to a crowd of roughly 50, LaValle feared the prospect of picking and choosing which Supreme Court rulings to comply with, saying, "the court has spoken, and I don't believe we can selectively say, 'I don’t like this Supreme Court decision, so we’re going to try and overturn that. But I like that one.'"
While LaValle, R-Port Jefferson, said at the end of his statement that government should "try and find ways to regulate some of these super PACs that have gotten out of control," that was not enough to satisfy Fleming, D-Noyac.
"When something is so destructive to the fabric of the democratic process — with the influx of unlimited, undisclosed spending — we have to take action. Something has to be done," said Fleming, a Southampton Town councilwoman.
LaValle, running for his 19th term in Albany, stated that, "I think our system of government is put together in a way that a Supreme Court decision is a Supreme Court decision," something Fleming said she "disagree[s] 100 percent with."
"It squashes good legitimate contenders who have good fresh ideas for good government, and something absolutely must be done about it," she said.
Last Thursday, The Huffington Post reported that New Jersey became the ninth state in the nation to pass a bill on the state level calling for a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United. Other states include California, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Hawaii, Marlyand and New Mexico.
Besides campaign finance, the two offered different approaches on other topics as well.
When it came to bringing jobs into the district, Fleming cited "the highest electric rates in the continental United States," said she would attempt to lower utilities for local business owners. LaValle pointed to his chairmanship on the Committee of Higher Education and the state's purchase of the bankrupt Southampton College, and environmental protection to promote continued tourism.
Fleming also went on the offensive over LaValle's fiscal record, calling his claims for fiscal prudence "Johnny-come-latelys," while pointing out the increases in state spending during his tenure. Fleming said state spending nearly doubled from $64 billion to $121 billion from 1998 to 2010 and cited growing state debt, though LaValle pointed to his accomplishment as "architect of the STAR rebate program" and noted that "the senate majority is only one part of the process."