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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one

No price too small if politics corrupted

I’ve never donated money to a politician, and I doubt I ever will.

My basic feeling is that if I’m in the mood to give away my money, there are probably better people and causes I can support.

But not everyone feels that way. Many people are surprisingly eager to give their money to politicians.
And while most of these people are likely law-abiding citizens, there’s a small subset of donors so enthusiastic about giving their money to politicians that they’re willing to break the law to do so.

Saratoga County developer Bruce Tanski, along with Katina Fogarty of Colonie and Nicholas DiNova Jr. of Halfmoon, were arrested and charged Friday with scheming to circumvent campaign finance laws. According to the state Attorney General’s office, Tanski used straw donors to funnel $6,000 in donations to former Halfmoon town Supervisor Mindy Wormuth’s campaign, in violation of the $1,000 contribution limit.

Court papers allege the developer provided six people, including Fogarty and DiNova, with $1,000 each; these individuals then wrote personal checks for $1,000 to the Wormuth campaign. The three also stand accused of evading requirements that donations be in the true name of the donor.

As schemes go, it’s not terribly complicated, but I’m still having a difficult time wrapping my mind around it, maybe because it all seems so petty.

The amount of money alleged to have been funneled to Wormuth’s account isn’t exactly huge. And Halfmoon, with a population of just over 21,000, isn’t exactly huge. Reasonable people might wonder how this small, fairly unimportant place came to inspire such determination to break campaign finance laws.

Of course, reasonable people might also wonder why the attorney general, the FBI and the state Comptroller’s Office are so focused on rooting out corruption in a relatively small Saratoga County community. Don’t they have bigger fish to fry?

Maybe, but if the state and the feds aren’t going to investigate corruption in Halfmoon, who will? Nobody I can see.

And we can’t just throw up our hands and say some corruption is acceptable, as long as it occurs in small towns and involves small amounts of money.

The case against Tanski and his associates is part of a larger investigation into corruption in Halfmoon. This ongoing probe already felled Wormuth, who resigned last October, shortly after she was accused of stealing thousands of dollars from a campaign account.

At the time, I expressed some amazement about the stakes involved, which struck me as rather low. One particularly head-scratching allegation is that Wormuth accepted more than $7,000 from unidentified mixed martial arts promoters to lobby for the legalization of MMA competitions in New York.

I don’t think I was alone in wondering why Wormuth would allegedly risk so much for so little. Then I reminded myself that, for those under investigation, the stakes probably weren’t that small. They were probably quite high.

If there’s any lesson to be drawn from this whole mess, maybe it’s that corruption comes in all shapes and sizes and, for some people, the price is pretty low.

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