The practice seems eternal.
Every year, incumbent elected officials spend millions of tax dollars to promote their image. This includes signs at public sites, rally-like "official" news conferences, nonbinding proclamations, and — importantly — mass mailings.
On Monday, the Republican-run Nassau County Legislature is scheduled to vote on a bill that aims to crack down on some postal perks. The legislation would bar elected officials from sending out government mailers within 45 days of their elections — except for the narrow purpose of telling residents about a public event or meeting.
Go for it, we say.
It’s an innocuous step, but there’s no reason to resist it. The measure made it out of committee last week with unanimous support from members of both major parties.
The bill would put into law what is already a rule for legislators in the 19-seat body. More significantly, the final-45-day prohibition for a general election would be extended to apply to County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat facing reelection, which explains the GOP majority’s timing. It would also apply to the county comptroller and the county clerk.
By no means is this to be hailed as a pathbreaking reform. In New York City, incumbents are subject to a 90-day blackout period before general elections on municipal newsletters, pamphlets, and "informational" materials sent to residents or voters. Penalties there include fines.
In Washington, the privilege of postage-free mass mailings is known as "franking." Senators and House members have a 60-day blackout period before any primary or general election in which that member is a candidate.
The rest of the time, much of what elected officials pass off as constituent information will no doubt continue to resemble campaign literature, replete with flashy self-serving graphics, grip-and-grin photos, prominent and repeated mentions of the politician’s name, and implied or explicit attacks on rivals.
Some official mailings are popular and useful, of course. People hold on to calendars, event schedules, medical van locations, phone and email directories for government offices and the like. But these days, access to free websites makes it easy for most residents to get information and print out such documents without paying the politicians’ postage.
While Nassau has this ball rolling, all local governments should follow suit and crack down on this systemic, expensive self-hype — a continual issue.
Nassau lawmakers also are due to vote Monday on proposed legislation to keep county elected officials from putting their names, titles and pictures on checks and associated envelopes from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
These measures promise a bit of propriety and cost cutting — regardless of who finds it expedient in the current election cycle. Next, find ways to expand on it.
MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.