Acting District Attorney Madeline Singas on Thursday called upon the Nassau County Legislature to adopt strict rules to prevent county officials from using taxpayer money to pay for political mailings during election campaigns.
She recommended five steps to halt the increasingly prevalent practice of using government funds to deliver political messages. The steps include a moratorium on all taxpayer-funded mass communications within 90 days of an election and a "conspicuous notice" on all government mass mailings saying they were "printed and distributed at taxpayer expense."
Singas, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for district attorney this fall, hand-delivered letters to the 19 county legislators, all of whom are up for re-election in November. She also gave copies to County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, and the county ethics board, which is appointed by the county executive. Mangano won a second four-year term in 2013 and is not running this year.
"Taxpayers should not be funding political mailings and the public purse should not be raided for partisan messages," Singas wrote. "But unless lawmakers act to clarify the rules, elected officials will continue to bombard constituents with political messages on the taxpayer's dime."
Although the state constitution and county charter prohibit the use of government resources for political purposes, "it is nearly impossible to bring a criminal charge for these abuses under current law," Singas wrote.
During the 2013 county elections, taxpayer-paid political activity surged after former District Attorney Kathleen Rice said current laws were not strong enough for her to prove criminal misuse of government resources.
Rice, a Democrat elected to Congress last year, was responding to complaints that Mangano had used county workers that summer to hand-deliver door-to-door taxpayer-paid fliers trumpeting his re-election slogans. A Mangano aide defended the fliers by noting they included a Web address for superstorm Sandy assistance.
Rice had recommended the county ethics board develop guidelines for government mailings, but the board took no action.
"This issue is too important to abandon," Singas wrote Thursday, "so I am renewing the call for legislation that sets clear guidelines for proper taxpayer-funded mass communication and that provides for civil and criminal penalties for abuse."
She also suggested that mailings of more than 100 "substantially identical pieces" be preapproved by the ethics board or a bipartisan legislative committee.
Singas said she sent the letter because the legislature and ethics board had not acted on past recommendations.
"So before campaign season starts again . . . it's important for the legislature to take this up now."
Asked what steps she would take if her recommendations are ignored, she said, "I am optimistic in this climate that progress will be made on this issue."
Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said Democratic lawmakers "would be happy to explore . . . and support" Singas' proposals.
Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) responded with the GOP's own campaign message: "The purpose of our mailing program is to inform our constituents of our initiatives that have allowed us to continue to hold the line on taxes, improve health and safety, reduce crime, create jobs, and generate economic growth in Nassau County."
Mangano noted the legislature "governs itself," but added that he supports Singas' suggestions "and will sign legislative-approved measures into law."
Although Nassau Republicans will not pick their candidate for district attorney until the GOP nominating convention May 6, Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray is considered the leading choice. Murray has been criticized by some for her numerous town-paid mailings, but her representatives have said they provide important government information. A Murray spokesman declined to comment Thursday.