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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Full court press needed to curb political mailings

A tweet posted on Nassau County Executive Edward

A tweet posted on Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano's Twitter account on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015. Credit: Twitter

Enough with taxpayer-funded mailings that -- to be charitable -- too often stretch the truth for political purposes.

And now is the perfect time to slam shut the door former Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice left open after investigating a complaint that County Executive Edward Mangano used public employees to deliver political messages during his re-election campaign in 2013.

A spokesman for Mangano said at the time that the materials were informational because they included a Web address for superstorm Sandy aid.

This though the fliers, in boldface print, included Mangano's re-election platform: That he froze property taxes, repealed an energy tax, cut wasteful spending and created and retained private jobs. In smaller print, at the bottom, was a state website address for Sandy aid registration.

After looking into the matter, Rice determined that the district attorney's office could not prove criminal misuse of government resources because the materials handed out by public employees, going door to door, did not include "objectively overt political statements."

Is it any wonder, then, that the floodgates began to open?

By October 2013, a story by Newsday's Celeste Hadrick included more instances in which money and resources funded campaign mantra -- by Republican and Democratic lawmakers, by Mangano and County Comptroller George Maragos.

Stanley Klein, a political science professor at LIU Post in Brookville and a Huntington GOP committeeman, told Hadrick that Rice's decision had "opened a Pandora's box."

Fast forward two years.

Critics again are crying foul over a publicly funded mailing by Republican lawmakers -- and a tweet by Mangano -- touting five years of no property tax increases.

When, in fact, there was an increase in 2015, and another proposed by Mangano for 2016.

Last year, Republican lawmakers tried to block the 2015 tax increase, but were forced to relent after Mangano vetoed their changes -- and the Nassau Interim Finance Authority nixed lawmakers' recommended cuts.

Apparently, that was too complex a narrative to put in the mailing -- which, nonetheless, should have been funded with campaign rather than public funds.

Meanwhile, lawmakers have ignored a recommendation from Madeline Singas -- who became Nassau's acting district attorney when her boss, Rice, went off to Congress -- that it tighten restrictions on government-funded mailings.

Last week, Dean Hart, a Democrat running for Nassau legislature, asked the state comptroller and the attorney general to investigate what he called "the blatant misuse of taxpayer money" in the Republican mailings.

He's right. But he shouldn't be acting alone.

Singas, a Democrat who is seeking election to the district attorney's post on Nov. 3, and her opponent, Republican Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray, would do Nassau residents a solid by coming together to back Hart's request.

Last night, Singas' office issued a statement saying she would take the matter of the mailings to the federal government. "Given the reported falsity of the content of these mailings, federal law may be implicated, and I began the process of a referral to the US Attorney for the Eastern District on Friday."

Since Nassau can't muster the will or the strength to seal Pandora's box, perhaps New York State or the federal government can.


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