John E. Wallace, Jr. sided with Democrats on a new map last month, but it’s not clear whether the New Jersey Supreme Court was aware of sizeable campaign contributions involving his politically active wife before they picked him to serve as the independent tiebreaker.
Barbara Wallace, who served on the staffs of Gov. Jon Corzine and U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, received substantial campaign contributions from stakeholders in the congressional redistricting process during her campaigns for mayor of Washington Township in Gloucester County about a decade ago.
A spokesperson for the court declined to say if justices knew about donations made by and to Mrs. Wallace before they voted to select her husband, a former state Supreme Court Justice, as the 13th member of the panel that redrew New Jersey’s twelve House districts. John Wallace had been nominated by the Democrats and former Superior Court Judge Marina Corodemus was the candidate Republicans wanted.
Last year, Barbara Wallace contributed $250 to Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing) and $500 to U.S. Senator Bob Menendez in June, records show. She also made a small contributions to a federal PAC called Stop Republicans. In 2020, she made donations to Joe Biden and Democratic congressional candidate Amy Kennedy.
But more alarming to Republicans are the donors to her own mayoral campaigns.
She raised over $84,000 in 2011, when she was the Democratic candidate for mayor in a special election for a one-year unexpired term. That race was largely funded by supporters of the South Jersey Democratic machine, including $24,600 from the legislative campaign fund of 4th district Democrats – State Sen. Fred Madden (D-Washington) is the Gloucester County Democratic Chairman — $7,200 from the New Jersey Regional Council of Carpenters, $4,500 from Watson Coleman, and $8,200 from Sheila Oliver, who was the Assembly Speaker at the time.
Her contributors also included other building trades unions – including Ironworkers Local 399, which is headed by Richard Sweeney — and Democratic elected officials.
When Mrs. Wallace sought a full-term in 2012, her donors included $8,200 each from Senate President Steve Sweeney, the Gloucester County Democratic Organization, and the Carpenters union, and $3,500 from Madden. She raised nearly $72,000 for that race, mostly from allies of the party organization.
In 2016, Gloucester County Democrats declined to support Mrs. Wallace for re-election, and she lost the Democratic primary to Joann Gattinelli by a 59%-41% margin. In that race, she received a $2,500 donation from Corzine and $4,600 from political action committees affiliated with the Communications Workers of America. Without party support, she only raised about $10,000 for her campaign.
While Wallace, as a judge, might have been forced to recuse himself from a matter that was tied to his wife, it’s not clear whether a redistricting tiebreaker was obligated to self-disclose the political contributions that are part of a public record.
Should Wallace have taken on the tiebreaker post knowing of the campaign contributions made by Democrats to his wife?
“It’s not actual conflicts, it’s appearances of conflicts,” said Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute of New Jersey Politics at Rider University, in an appearance on the New Jersey Globe Power Hour on Talk Radio 77 WABC. “Maybe he should have taken a walk on this one.”
John Wallace ended his 27-year judicial career in 2011 when Republican Gov. Chris Christie refused to renominate him to a tenured term. He is now affiliated with a politically influential South Jersey law firm with close ties to Democratic powerbroker George Norcross, Brown & Connery. Bill Tambussi, a partner at the firm, has been the counsel to the Camden County Democratic organization for 32 years and is the personal attorney for George E. Norcross III, a major Democratic powerbroker.
The Supreme Court did not seek any input from the redistricting commissioners before choosing Wallace over Corodemus, and did not interview either of the candidates, the New Jersey Globe has learned.
Republicans did not raise the issue of campaign contributions during the map-drawing process – indeed, it’s not clear they knew about them prior to Wallace’s vote – but that might not have mattered.
“Wallace had all the power,” said one Republican leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity “It’s not like we could have questioned his integrity, even privately, without taking a risk that he would hold it against us.”
After Wallace picked the Democratic map on December 22, the GOP redistricting chairman, Doug Steinhardt, told the New Jersey Globe that he wasn’t surprised.
“Wallace was never a 13th member,” Steinhardt said. “He was a 7th Democrat.”
John Wallace did not immediately respond to a 1:08 PM email.
Correction: an earlier version of this story incorrectly reported a small contribution to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.