Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas asked Thursday for an expedited opinion from the county Board of Ethics on the legality of officials’ use of taxpayer-funded mailings for promotional purposes.
In a letter, Singas said the board “has exclusive jurisdiction to articulate a standard” as to what violates the county charter’s ban on the use of county resources to further political interests.
She said the state constitution could allow a politically motivated, publicly funded mailing to be considered a crime. But the county ethics board first must clearly define the prohibition in the charter, Singas said.
“Without clear governing guidelines, rules and protocols, public officials in Nassau County continue to waste millions of tax dollars on self-promotional mailings to improve their election prospects,” Singas wrote.
“It is unquestionably unethical and wrong, but absent a provision providing clear notice of the unlawful action, my office cannot prosecute them for official misconduct,” Singas said.
Singas, a Democrat, has long criticized county legislators for using public mailings to tout accomplishments — often in partisan terms and frequently in election years.
All 19 legislative seats are up for election in November. Lawmakers recently increased their mailing budget by $400,000.
A postcard sent by GOP legislators in July said county finances had improved “thanks in large part to the Republican majority.” It said GOP lawmakers made fixes “without resorting to massive tax increases like the previous Democratic Legislative Majority.”
GOP legislators called the mailer “informative,” and cited the county attorney’s opinion that an upstate court decision backs the use of “partisan references” in public mailers.
Legislative Democrats also have referred in mailers to their party’s proposals and GOP opposition to them.
“The Board of Ethics [should] not limit itself to the mailings by the legislative majority, but also include mailings from the legislative minority,” Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said in a response to Singas letter to the ethics board.
County Attorney Carnell Foskey, a member of the ethics board, didn’t respond Thursday to a request for comment.
The board currently has four members, all Republicans, and has taken little public action in recent years. Legislators in July approved an overhaul of the board that has yet to take effect. The plan would limit the number of members from one political party, restrict their political activity and require faster opinions.