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Editorial: Voters deserve explanation from Rep. Bishop

Rep. Tim Bishop at Stony Brook University. (Oct.

Rep. Tim Bishop at Stony Brook University. (Oct. 27, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

The famously lethargic House Committee on Ethics needs to quickly determine whether Rep. Tim Bishop broke the law by allegedly seeking a campaign contribution from a constituent he helped get fireworks permits, or by improperly reporting the contribution.

These allegations, which arose in Bishop's last campaign, shouldn't be left to fester unresolved into the 2014 election campaign. Voters need to know whether Bishop (D-Southampton) acted improperly in the heat of the 2012 race. And if he didn't, the suspicion raised by the allegations should be dispelled.

In a report released Wednesday, the independent Office of Congressional Ethics said it found "a substantial reason to believe that a violation of House rules, standards of conduct and federal law occurred." The report was sent to the ethics committee for review. Only the committee and the full House of Representatives can decide whether rules were violated and discipline a member.

According to the 177-page report, Bishop sought a campaign contribution from hedge fund manager Eric Semler after helping him obtain local and federal permits for a fireworks display at his son's bar mitzvah on May 26, 2012. The report also, in a new charge, accused Bishop's campaign of misrepresenting a $5,000 contribution from Semler in official filings. Bishop reported receiving the donation on June 26, 2012 -- the deadline for primary contributions -- when it was actually received on July 9. And rather than reporting it as one $5,000 contribution -- which would have exceeded the $2,500 individual-donor limit for a primary -- the campaign reported separate $2,500 contributions from Semler and his wife.

Bishop owes his constituents an explanation. His lawyer said in a July 8 letter to the committee that the congressman complied with the law and that his campaign followed Federal Election Commission procedures in screening and reporting the contribution.

The ethics committee needs to resolve this matter once and for all.