Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has Show More
Madeline Singas, Nassau's acting district attorney, is on to something with her push to clarify county law and, for the first time, establish punishments for politicians who use taxpayer money for political mailings.
Singas -- and, yes, she's seeking the Democratic nomination to run to succeed now-Congresswoman Kathleen Rice to shed the "acting" part of district attorney -- wants Nassau's lawmakers -- and, yes, they're all running come November, too -- to get a move on to stop the predictable flood of politicking-masquerading-as-information coming to a mailbox near you this fall.
Singas has proposed reforms modeled on federal franking rules, which cover everything from the size of photographs on taxpayer-funded mailings to the type of information U.S. lawmakers are allowed to pass along -- at taxpayer expense -- to constituents.
Nassau -- where using public money on political mailings has been elevated to high, if obvious, art -- desperately needs a change.
Over the years, Republicans complained about Democrats and their mailings, while Democrats complained about Republicans and their mailings.
There have been instances where entire slates of candidates for various offices appeared on a faux-information mailing from one elected official. That's not allowed under federal rules.
There've been mailings with political slogans, and jabs against political opponents.
That's a no-no, too.
And what about those mailings with umpety-ump photographs of politicians.
Nope, nope, and nope under federal rules that call for no more than two photos per page -- with no single photo taking up more than half -- on taxpayer-funded mailings.
Those rules also mandate that photos show elected officials actually working -- not gripping and grinning with elders (seniors vote!) or school children (suburban mothers vote!) or standing in front of a van, or a bus, or a sign with the official's name on it.
Under federal rules, those working photos also are supposed to be accompanied by captions telling residents exactly what work the photograph captures the official doing.
Now wouldn't that, like, be fun?
Singas, in a letter to Nassau legislators, recommended five steps for the cash-strapped county to stop wasting residents' precious tax money on political messages.
One of them -- also modeled on congressional rules -- would ban all taxpayer-funded mass communications within 90 days of an election.
Another would mandate what Singas calls a "conspicuous notice" on all government mass mailings -- letting residents know that the material was "printed and distributed at taxpayer expense."
That alone might begin to temper the mailings, and the imaginative ways elected officials have been using to justify them. And it also might help candidates who don't have access to public employees, or residents' tax money.
Both New York's constitution and Nassau's charter ban putting government resources to political use. But, as Singas -- and before her, Rice, -- noted, "it is nearly impossible to bring a criminal charge for these abuses under current law."
Rice sought changes from lawmakers -- or Nassau's ethics commission -- two years ago. And nothing has happened.
With federal prosecutors already asking questions about county contracting operations, lawmakers now are scrambling to put contract reforms into place.
They would do well to keep going, and stop the flagrant waste of public money on political mailings. Residents, given that elections are just a few months away, will be watching.