Rep. Tim Bishop subject of House Ethics Committee review

Congressman Tim Bishop answered questions about the future Congressman Tim Bishop answered questions about the future of Plum Island. Environmentalist and local and federal officials met at Poquatuck Hall in Orient to discuss plans to save Plum Island. (April 29, 2013) Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

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WASHINGTON -- A congressional ethics probe released Wednesday found "a substantial reason" to believe Rep. Tim Bishop violated the law when he allegedly sought a donation from a Sagaponack constituent he was helping with fireworks permits.

The 177-page report by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics also leveled a new charge against Bishop (D-Southampton), alleging he misreported the date and source of the constituent's $5,000 donation, leading him to accept more cash than legally allowed.

But the House Ethics Committee, which makes the final determination about whether to pursue the office's findings and recommendations, made no ruling in a complaint against Bishop. The committee said it would continue to review the complaint but stopped short of opening its own investigation.

Bishop's attorneys filed a 12-page letter disputing the allegations.

"The report released today confirms that the allegations made against me last summer were politically orchestrated and I am confident that the ongoing review of this matter will show that I acted in good faith to assist a constituent in need," Bishop said in a statement Wednesday.

At issue is a complaint filed in August 2012 by Smithtown Councilman Robert Creighton, who backed Bishop's Republican challenger Randy Altschuler last year. Creighton charged that Bishop sought a quid pro quo for helping a constituent, in a violation of the law and ethics rules.

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The report, which the congressional ethics office submitted to the Ethics Committee in June, details through interviews and emails how Bishop helped hedge fund manager Eric Semler obtain local and federal permits for a Fireworks by Grucci display for his son's bar mitzvah on May 26, 2012.

It also documents a flurry of emails about the campaign donations beginning May 22, when Bishop tells his friend and fundraiser Robert Sillerman -- who brought Semler's problem to Bishop -- to ask Semler for a contribution.

Bishop's office said the report shows Bishop never directly asked Semler for a donation in return for Bishop's help.

Later, Semler complained to Grucci employees about having to pay "$10k to Tim Bishop's campaign for his help" as Semler sought a refund for Grucci's botching of the permits.

Bishop's office said it's not clear Semler wrote the email. It said the report shows Semler can't find a copy of the email, and that he wasn't certain he wrote it.

The report also for the first time says Bishop's campaign reported that Semler and his wife gave $2,500 each on June 26, 2012 -- the day of the New York primary -- but that records show Semler actually gave $5,000 using his company credit card on July 9.

Bishop's campaign may have violated reporting requirements and the donation limit of $2,500 per election, the report said.

Bishop's attorney said the office's charge is "deeply flawed," misstates federal campaign law and failed to show Semler donated too much.

"For Mr. Bishop this is all bad news. It shows the problems were worse than he argued," said Melanie Sloan, director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which had criticized Bishop over the donation request.

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