Swamp Tales: New Jersey Assemblyman Says Pay to Play Laws are Violation of His First Amendment Rights

TOMS RIVER, NJ – New Jersey Assemblyman Greg McGuckin, just a few short years ago transferred his home into the name of his business partner Jerry Dasti after the IRS slapped the Republican legislator with over one hundred thousand dollars in liens.  It was so bad, that McGuckin, before becoming an assemblyman had to suspend his political campaign for Toms River Council in 2008.

McGuckin eventually bounced back, still owing the IRS, but winning the 2011 election for the 10th Assembly District in the New Jersey Assembly.  Since becoming an assemblyman, McGuckin’s fortunes have turned.  He and his partner, Dasti have been donating tens of thousands of dollars to political campaigns, in return, receiving tens of millions of dollars in public service contracts across Ocean County since being elected.   In 2020 alone, McGuckin and Dasti are looking at a $3,000,000 public take.

This year, McGuckin was accused of using his influence to create himself a job in Toms River…literally.  McGuckin’s office drafted an ordinance that created a job for himself, which was ratified by the Toms River Township council.  That led to Toms River Councilman Daniel Rodrick filing a complaint against McGuckin in Superior Court.  That case was handled by Judge Marlene Lynch Ford, a political player in Ocean County.  Ford served as an assemblywoman, in the same seat held today by McGuckin in the 1990s.  In 2007, she was appointed by Jon Corzine as the Ocean County Prosecutor but was relieved of her job by Joseph Coronato.  In a political deal that was made by party leaders on both sides of the aisle, Ford was appointed by Governor Chris Christie to become an assignment judge in 2013, raising quickly through the ranks to become a Superior Court Judge in 2015.

Rodrick accused McGuckin of violating the Toms River Township pay to play laws, but Ford ruled that municipal pay to play laws fell under the jurisdiction of the township council and since the township council voted in favor of hiring McGuckin, it was out of her purview to rule on the matter.

“After contributing thousands of dollars to the campaigns of Mayor Hill and his running mates, a state assemblyman with 30 public jobs wrote his own ordinance, to create a job for himself in Toms River. Then the governing body gave him the position without even advertising it,” Rodrick said of McGuckin’s patronage hiring.

The defense used by McGuckin, according to a brief filed by Ford, was that New Jersey’s pay-to-play laws were a violation of his first amendment rights.

“Defendants have raised a first amendment defense relative to the pay to play allegations of the complaining,” Ford said. “The issue of whether pay to play campaign finance restrictions is not, however, before this court at this time.”

“There is no dispute that the Dasti law firm, and Mr. McGuckin, made contributions to the members of the council,” Ford said. “The township was required to follow a fair and open process to award a contract for professional services.”

By deferring her judgment on pay to play violations and campaign ethics that may have been violated in Toms River, Ford dismissed the case, stating that the Toms River Township did follow a fair and open process in the hiring of McGuckin to a no-bid contract job that is estimated at approximately $500,000 annually.

Rodrick, who filed the case, said he will not appeal the decision by Ford, but told the people of Toms River and the 10th legislative district that the matter will now have to be decided in the voting booth in 2021 when four seats in the Toms River council are up for grabs along with McGuckin’s 10th district seat.

“Given the facts, Judge Ford’s decision to turn a blind eye to these blatant violations- clearly demonstrates that the courts are political – and the system is totally incapable of policing itself. At the end of the day, these judges are appointed by politicians like McGuckin – and Judge Ford is herself a former politician,” Rodrick added. “Unfortunately, the culture of corruption in Toms River and in the State of New Jersey will continue to go unchecked until the voters render their decision at the ballot box in 2021.”