Legislative Democrats in Nassau have filed legislation that would prohibit county officials from using taxpayer dollars to promote political messages.
The bill would ban all nonemergency publicly funded mass mailings 60 days before any primary or general election. It also would require all government mailings to include a "conspicuous notice in bold type" stating it was printed and distributed at taxpayer expense, and disclose the actual cost of the mailing.
Any official who violates the proposed law could be subject to a $1,000 fine and a year in jail.
"It is truly a shame and an embarrassment that this law is even needed," said Legis. Judith Jacobs (D-Woodbury). "However, continuing abuses must be stopped immediately. We are responsible to act responsibly with taxpayers' money."
Frank Moroney, spokesman for Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow), who will decide whether the legislature considers the bill, said the Democrats' proposal was "under consideration," despite "some political grandstanding."
"Our mailings aren't political, they are informative," Moroney said.
Acting District Attorney Madeline Singas last month called on county lawmakers to enact restrictions on government-paid political messages, echoing similar requests from former District Attorney Kathleen Rice, a Democrat elected to Congress last year.
The state constitution prohibits the use of government resources for political purposes. But Rice concluded before the 2013 county elections that current laws were not strong enough to bring criminal charges. That led some candidates from both parties to increase their use of government mailings to repeat their campaign slogans.
Last month, Legis. Steve Rhoads (R-Bellmore), who was elected in a special election in March and will have to run again this fall, sent out a county-funded mailing, headlined "Legis. Steve Rhoads Saving Taxpayer Dollars." The mailing cites changes to the property assessment process, but Rhoads was not in office when the changes were enacted.
"That's exactly the type of thing that constituents hopefully will see right through," Jacobs said. "It should not be self-advancement, it should be information."
Moroney said the mailing provided "information to the residents of the 19th Legislative District of the reforms that are in place and will save them money on the assessment process."
Singas, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for district attorney this fall, said, "I am glad some legislators agree that taxpayers shouldn't be footing the bill for politicians' self-promotional mail."
While not commenting on the bill's specifics, she said, "Tough legislation with criminal penalties to curb these abuses is long overdue, and I encourage the full legislature to act on comprehensive reform legislation immediately."
Nassau Republicans have chosen Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray as their candidate for district attorney.
Critics for years have complained about the frequency of Murray's town-funded mailings. A Murray spokesman said Thursday, "The town doesn't do any political mailings. All of our mailings detail important services and programs offered by the town."