By Kathryn G. Menu
A report issued last week by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) states that there is reason to believe Congressman Tim Bishop violated finance law and recommends the House Committee on Ethics continue to review allegations the congressman’s campaign solicited a contribution after helping a constituent secure permits for a fireworks display.
“Therefore, there is substantial reason to believe that Representative Bishop sought a campaign contribution because of or in connection with an official act in violation of House rules, standards of conduct, and federal law,” states the OCE in the conclusion portion of the 177-page document.
In addition, the investigation also revealed Bishop’s campaign committee may have reported a $5,000 contribution inaccurately from the constituent’s company, breaking a $2,500 campaign finance election limit.
“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,” said Bishop in a statement this week.
According to the report, the investigation began after a complaint was filed in August of 2012 alleging violations of ethics rules and the law after the Congressman aided Sagaponack resident Eric Semler in gaining environmental permits for a fireworks show for his son’s bar mitzvah.
The show was by Fireworks by Grucci, a company with ties to Felix J. Grucci, who Bishop bested in 2002 to become a member of the House of Representatives. Diana Weir, who served as two-time Bishop challenger Randy Altschuler’s campaign manager in his 2012 bid to unseat the Democrat Congressman, once served as Grucci’s finance director.
According to the OCE’s report, Semler reached out to Robert F.X. Sillerman, a close friend of Bishop, and eventually Sillerman reached out to Bishop on May 21 via email seeking assistance.
According to the report, after Bishop began the process of aiding Semler, he, Sillerman, Semler and Bishop’s finance director discussed a campaign contribution.
In a May 22, 2012 email Bishop stated to Sillerman, “OK, so just call me the friggin mailman — we are all set with [the constituent]. Hey, would you be willing to reach out to him to ask for a contribution? If he donated before June 26, he and his wife can each do 5 large — if it is after June 26, they can do a max of 2500.”
According to the report, Bishop told the OCE that in the email he was relaying to Sillerman they were “good to go” and asked about the contribution because in the past Sillerman would occasionally solicit contributions on his behalf.
“Representative Bishop stated that he was in ‘full on fundraising mode’ during this time and had just learned about a wealthy person in his district, so he asked Mr. Sillerman to request the contribution.”
Bishop told the OCE when he requested Sillerman solicit Semler, he did not think there was a timing issue related to his assistance with the firework display approvals. He stated he did not think at the time, “I did something for you so now you owe me.”
According to the OCE report, an internal memo from Semler about the contribution was later sent by a Grucci employee to other Grucci employees and eventually found its way into the offices of Politico, which would break the story.