Editorial: Probe campaign donation to Rep. Tim Bishop

Congressman Tim Bishop speaks during a press conference Congressman Tim Bishop speaks during a press conference in front of the FAA's TRACON facility in Garden City. (July 9, 2012) Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

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Timing is everything.

A campaign contribution Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) got from a constituent shortly after he sought the congressman's help with a federal fireworks permit is explosive. This may not have been an improper quid pro quo. But the timing of an email from the Bishop campaign to hedge fund manager Eric Semler suggesting a contribution as high as $10,000 has the appearance of impropriety.

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The Federal Elections Commission should check whether the $5,000 Semler and his wife donated violates its rules.

Semler wanted fireworks at his son's May 26 bar mitzvah. With the big day approaching and no federal permit in hand, on May 21 he turned to Bishop, who agreed to intercede. But on May 23, before the problem was resolved, Semler got an email from Bishop's daughter, Molly, indicating how much he and his wife could give if they decided to contribute to Bishop's re-election campaign. Meantime, the permit was secured, the fireworks went off, and on June 26 the Semlers donated $5,000.

Conflicts, real and apparent, are an inevitable by-product of the way campaigns are financed. Candidates have to raise piles of money. Much of it comes from people they represent and should help when possible. Public campaign financing would be an improvement because it would reduce the amount candidates need to raise from private donors.

Accounts differ on whether the help was connected to the contribution, and Bishop has since given the money to charity. But as long as we have the current campaign finance system, we'll never be free of such situations and the probes they demand.

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