Editorial: Ethics panel needs to decide Rep. Tim Bishop case

Tim Bishop speaks in Islandia on Nov. 2, Tim Bishop speaks in Islandia on Nov. 2, 2013. Photo Credit: AP

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Eighteen months after the House Ethics Committee began probing whether Rep. Tim Bishop broke rules in seeking a campaign contribution from a constituent whom he helped get fireworks permits, Republicans are airing an attack ad exploiting the unresolved charges.

The allegations arose during Bishop's 2012 campaign. They need to be resolved before the 2014 campaign heats up.

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Allowing the suspicion of wrongdoing to linger for so long is unfair to Bishop (D-Southampton), forcing him to campaign under a cloud. And it's unfair to voters in his eastern Suffolk district. They deserve to know now if he behaved unethically or illegally. And if he didn't, the House committee has a responsibility to say so and clear the air.

It's been five months since the independent Office of Congressional Ethics reported to the committee "a substantial reason to believe" that a violation of House rules and federal law occurred -- a conclusion Bishop adamantly rebutted in a detailed 12-page response.

According to the report, Bishop solicited a contribution from hedge fund manager Eric Semler after helping him obtain permits for fireworks at his son's May 26, 2012, bar mitzvah. Bishop's campaign is accused of misrepresenting the date the contribution was received, and rather than reporting it as one $5,000 donation -- which would have exceeded the $2,500 individual-donor limit for a primary election -- reporting separate $2,500 contributions from Semier and his wife.

Only the ethics committee or the full House of Representatives can decide whether rules were broken and discipline a member. A committee spokesman said only that the matter is under review.

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It shouldn't take this long to get to the bottom of such straightforward allegations. Did Bishop break the rules or didn't he? The public needs to know.

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