Smithtown Councilman Robert Creighton formally requested Friday that the Office of Congressional Ethics launch an investigation into U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop, following a Politico report that the congressman’s campaign sought a contribution after a constituent asked him to expedite fireworks permits.
Creighton, a Conservative Party member and former Suffolk County police commissioner, said filing the ethics probe was simply the right thing to do.
“Mr. Bishop, clearly in my eyes, made a terrible mistake and I don’t think he is entitled to make that kind of mistake.”
In his letter to the OCE, Creighton accused the Southampton Democrat of violating “criminal bribery and illegal gratuities statutes.” The Politico story reported that Bishop's staff solicited a donation from hedge fund manager Eric Semler after the congressman helped him get a fireworks permit as part of his son's Bar Mitzvah party in late May.
Robert Pierce, a spokesman for Bishop’s campaign, rejected Creighton’s sentiment.
“As Representative Bishop has said, any fair-minded review of the facts will conclude what we already know and what the donor in question has stated — there was no wrongdoing,” Pierce said.
Bishop’s campaign previously stated that "out of an abundance of caution," the Semlers' $5,000 in campaign contributions were donated to charities that benefit veterans.
Semler has also said that Bishop himself never asked for a donation.
St. James businessman Randy Altschuler, the Republican challenging Bishop in the First Congressional District race, has seized on the controversy, even launching a website documenting press coverage at investigatebishop.com.
“Congressman Bishop’s attempts to minimize this blatant ethics violation are both predictable and troubling,” said Diana Weir, the spokeswoman for the Altschuler campaign, in a statement Tuesday.
“This is a serious offense, and we agree with the leading, non-partisan ethics group in Washington that his actions may go beyond an ethical problem and warrant a criminal investigation,” Weir continued, referring to a statement from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics Executive Director Melanie Sloan.
As reported by the Associated Press, Sloan said Bishop “accepted an illegal gratuity, which is a federal crime.”
Weir said, “We agree with Mr. Creighton, Newsday's editors and virtually every other major newspaper in the area who all believe Congressman Bishop's actions should be thoroughly investigated and proper disciplinary action taken."
But Pierce says that Altschuler is trying to distract voters during the last leg of the campaign from his own record of profiting from outsourcing, supporting “a budget that raises taxes on the middle class,” and holding “the extreme anti-choice view of Todd Akin that puts a rapist’s rights over a victim’s rights."
Weir, in turn, told Patch Tuesday afternoon that bringing up Sen. Akin's controversial comments regarding rape and pregnancy — which — is a smokescreen. She also defended Altschuler's business history, saying he is the only candidate in the race who has created American jobs.
“Mr. Bishop is the one that did what he did, not us," Weir said. "He’s responsible for his actions on this controversy."
Reached by Patch Tuesday, Creighton said that his motives for asking for an investigation into Bishop were not politically motivated. Bishop now has an , east of Town Hall and minutes away from Altschuler’s home.
“Mr. Bishop I know is great friends with the [town] supervisor [Patrick Vecchio] and he’s a ,” Creighton said. “I don’t think it has anything to do with that. He did not do what he should have done and I don’t think a congressman should behave that way.”