Political messages shouldn't go out with public resources

Mangano and Republican running mate County Comptroller George

Mangano and Republican running mate County Comptroller George Maragos put out a joint government mailing. (Credit: handout)

Spending public money on political activity may be legal, but it sure isn't right. That's especially true in fiscally challenged Nassau County, where every penny lost to such activity could have been better spent on services.

According to a Newsday story Tuesday, political activity supported by Nassau taxpayers surged after District Attorney Kathleen Rice determined in August that County Executive Edward Mangano's use of county workers to deliver fliers -- trumpeting campaign slogans along with a Web address for superstorm Sandy aid -- was not criminal.

Rice investigated after receiving a complaint, but said she could not prove criminal misuse of government resources beyond a reasonable doubt because the material did not include "overtly political statements."


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Rice -- a member of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's Moreland Commission investigating government corruption, who also is seeking re-election -- did recommend that state and Nassau lawmakers establish rules and regulations for taxpayer-funded communications.

That has not -- and likely will not -- happen without significant public outcry.

There always seems to be plentiful talk among Long Island politicians about curbing local taxes, but almost none about how much of residents' hard-earned money is wasted on such nongovernmental activity.

Newsday reported that county employees, using county facilities on county time to print signs displayed by Mangano, a Republican, in a news conference -- in the county's ceremonial chambers -- attacked Democratic county executive candidate Thomas Suozzi. Why should Nassau residents have to pay for this?

And why were residents responsible for covering the cost of the 90,000 postcards Legis. Kevan Abrahams, a Democrat who is the legislature's minority leader, sent out attacking Mangano -- using catchphrases from fellow Democrat Suozzi's campaign?

In both cases, spokesmen defended the actions, working hard in attempting to characterize them as proper functions of government. But they said nothing about using public money for what smacked of political communication.

The Newsday story included those and other examples of political communication that were hardly subtle in message or intent.

Not one activity says, explicitly, "Vote for Me," and that may have been enough to skirt criminal statutes.

But the mailings and other activities managed to send the exact same message -- at taxpayer, rather than campaign, expense.

That amounts to a public match of private campaign dollars, because public-funded communication frees up money in candidate budgets to print, televise or otherwise pitch even more political woo as Election Day nears.

Students in middle school learn about the so-called "franking privilege" -- the advantage incumbents have of being able to use publicly funded communications to make themselves look good.

But, as experts in the Newsday report made clear, the level of taxpayer-supported political activity in Nassau this season skirts too close to the line.

This is the kind of waste that frustrates voters. What will it take to deliver that message to public officials?