Rep. Tim Bishop, D-Southampton, is firing back at a Politico.com report that claims the five-term congressman's re-election campaign tried to shake down a wealthy Southampton resident in exchange for a favor.
In the story, Politico said Eric Semler, a hedge fund manager, needed help getting a fireworks permit as part of his son's Bar Mitzvah party in late May. With the celebration date fast approaching, he turned to Bishop for help. Bishop's daughter and fundraiser, Molly Bishop, then emailed Semler looking for a campaign contribution, according to the report.
But Bishop said Semler's request and any solicitations from his campaign were in no way connected.
Bishop told Politico, "When we fast-track a passport request, and when people get back from Europe and send me $100 in gratitude, is that coercion? No.”
In the story, Semler also defended Bishop, saying "Tim never said anything to me about a donation. I didn’t know he was running for re-election. After the fact, after I got the permit, I did receive a request for a donation. He didn’t tell me, one of his campaign people told me, that he was in a hot race and needed a lot of support. I would love to support a guy like that.”
But Bishop's challenger, Republican Randy Altschuler, of St. James, seized on the controversy.
"In reading Congressman Bishop’s defense, it’s stunningly clear that after 10 years in Congress he doesn’t even understand House Ethics rules, which clearly state that soliciting campaign contributions of any size linked with official action is strictly prohibited, especially when the request for official action is pending or has occurred," said Diana Weir, Altschuler's campaign manager, in a statement released Wednesday afternoon.
Weir called Molly Bishop's solicitation "inappropriate and unethical" and suggested that it may even be criminal.
Bishop in turn sent out a statement Wednesday evening rebuking the Altschuler campaign.
“I am deeply troubled by Randy Altschuler, senior executives in the Grucci fireworks company, Diana Weir, a former Felix Grucci political operative, teaming up to make outrageous, unfounded attacks on my character and my family," Bishop stated. "Given their history of making unfounded personal attacks on me, these new reckless accusations of criminal activity should not be a surprise."
Bishop was first elected to Congress in 2002 when he defeated one-term Rep. Felix Grucci.
His campaign noted that "out of an abundance of caution," Bishop donated the Semlers' campaign contributions to charities that benefit veterans, Long Island 9-1-1 Veterans, Honor Flight Long Island, and U.S. Veterans Motorcycle Club Long Island Chapter.
Do you think the request for a donation was fair game? Let us know in the comments.