The Democratic gubernatorial campaign of Assemblyman John Wisniewski suffered a major setback this week, after his law firm was fired by Keyport over an illegal political donation to Monmouth County Democrats that violated a local pay-to-play law he drafted in 2008.
There is open speculation that with his poor fundraising results and heavy spending, the scandal could force Wisniewski’s withdrawal from the race to succeed Republican Gov. Chris Christie.
Wisniewski, who lives in Sayreville, served as borough attorney when the pay-to-play law was passed. In January, his firm was appointed to represent Keyport in tax appeal cases.
Wisniewski & Associates contributed $1,000 to the Monmouth County Democratic Organization in October 2014 while the candidate was serving as Keyport’s special counsel for litigation, labor relations, redevelopment and “general legal matters.”
Under Keyport’s pay-to-play law, contractors may donate a maximum of $300 to political organizations, including candidates, their campaigns, political action committees or county political parties.
Politico New Jersey first reported Wisniewski’s disqualification. The current borough attorney, Joseph Baumann Jr., informed Wisniewski in a Feb. 3 letter that his firm, Wisniewski & Associates, “has been disqualified from further representation of the Borough as of this date.”
“Please have all Borough files forwarded to our office with a memorandum summarizing the status of all matters,” Baumann wrote.
Politico New Jersey reported in November that Wisniewski had donated nearly $18,000 to the Monmouth County Democratic Party through his Assembly campaign account, which appeared to slip through a loophole in Keyport’s law because it did not mention donations from such accounts.
Keyport was a major client of Wisniewski’s firm, paying fees of nearly $600,000 from 2006 to 2015.
Wisniewski sought to exploit voter ire over politics by backing Vermont revolutionary Bernie Sanders, but his establishment foundations proved problematic, as evidenced by remarks expressed by Bob Grant, a Sanders stalwart.
“For a guy who claims to be a progressive leader in Trenton, this guy acts like an old time Jersey City ward heeler,”said Grant of Wisniewski, in June.
“My complaint basically is Wisniewski did this in an attempt to further his  gubernatorial aspirations and has done nothing to further the Sanders Campaign,” Grant said. “All that it demonstrated in the end was his conflicting ambitions.”
“The two candidates for freeholder didn’t even show up at the county nominating convention,” Grant said. “The delegate list looks like it was picked out of a phone book. Frankly, if this is John Wisniewski’s effort, it speaks to how this man would deal with the public if he were governor. If he runs, I mean to ask him some questions at public forums that won’t make him very happy.”
And challenging the long time legislator is another active Sanders volunteer, Lisa McCormick.
“The candidate for governor who benefits most from John Wisniewski’s withdrawal is progressive grassroots Democrat Lisa McCormick,” said one widely circulated email. “McCormick is competing for the nomination with a Wall Street billionaire and several political insiders but she is the only woman running in a field dominated by wealthy men.”
In addition to doing a poor job for Sanders, McCormick has said Wisniewski voted at least three times to outlaw abortion procedures and he voted twice to restrict access to abortion for some New Jersey women.
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