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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Caps on contractor contributions a good start

Crews drop of debris at a Nassau collection

Crews drop of debris at a Nassau collection site in Eisenhower Park. (Nov. 28, 2012) Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Hundreds of thousands of dollars in combined campaign contributions by Sandy contractors to Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and one of his challengers, Thomas Suozzi, aren't illegal.

But maybe, at minimum, such contributions -- as they are in New York City -- should be capped.

According to a Newsday report last week, Mangano's re-election campaign received $271,000 in contributions from firms that received emergency Sandy-related contracts.

Suozzi, a Democrat and a former county executive seeking to regain his old seat from Mangano, a Republican, received $12,500, in such campaign contributions.

A third candidate, Adam Haber -- who is largely self-funded as he runs a Democratic primary against Suozzi -- received none.

The Mangano and Suozzi campaigns, along with some contractors, according to the report, said that contributions to the campaigns of a sitting and former county executive had no influence on how contracts were awarded.

But that hardly negates the fact that firms, which together contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to campaigns for the county's top elected office, also have millions of dollars in county contracts.

Coincidence or not, the nexus between contributions and contracts fuels public perception that pay-to-play is alive and well.

In New York City, the money connection is not so strong. Under policies adopted by the city's nonpartisan Campaign Finance Board, firms with city contracts can contribute up to $400 -- yes, that's hundreds not thousands of dollars -- to candidates running for mayor, public advocate and comptroller.

For borough president, the maximum is $320; and city council contributions are capped at 250 bucks.

Of course, the city's nonpartisan office does a lot of other things too, including encouraging more residents to run for public office.

But on Long Island, capping contributions from contractors would be a darn good place to start.

The issue of campaign finance reform remains a necessary, though elusive, goal for most of New York State.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has empaneled a Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, co-chaired by Kathleen Rice, Nassau's district attorney.

But why wait to tackle the obvious? The current system leaves the public suspicious. And it doesn't help contributors and candidates -- who, again, are breaking no laws -- avoid the perception that government contracts might be for sale.

Caps on government contractor contributions to Long Island campaigns would be a fine start at reform -- and one that local governments probably could put into place long before Albany comes up with anything substantive.

Ahem, local candidates: Anybody out there willing -- and brave enough -- to take this on?

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