Tag Archive | "Congress"

Former Police Commissioner Calls on Ethics Investigation on Bishop

Tags: , , , , , ,

According to a press release issued by the campaign of Congressional hopeful, Republican Randy Altschuler, former Suffolk County Police Commissioner and Chief Investigator of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, Bob Creighton, has sent a certified letter to the non-partisan Office of Congressional Ethics formally requesting an investigation into Congressman Tim Bishop fundraising practices. The letter comes after a Politico story called into question a donation made by a Southampton resident who Bishop aided by helping a fireworks company gain permits for his son’s bar mitvah.

Newsday originally reported the story on Creighton’s letter.

According to the Altschuler camp, in his letter, Creighton writes, “[I]t seems clear that Representative Bishop and his staff clearly violated House Ethics rules and may very well have violated criminal bribery and illegal gratuities statues. I trust that you will take this matter serious, review all the facts in a timely manner, and open a full investigation into Representative Bishop as a result.”

“As a former Suffolk County Police Commissioner and Chief Investigator for the District Attorney’s Office, Bob Creighton’s willingness to publicly request a congressional investigation into career politician Tim Bishop’s pay-to-play fundraising practices speaks volumes,” said Altschuler Campaign Manager Diana Weir.  “The House Ethics Rules are crystal clear on this issue: Soliciting a campaign contribution linked to official action is strictly prohibited. We agree with Mr. Creighton, Newsday’s editors and virtually every other major newspaper in the area who all believe Congressman Bishop’s actions should be thoroughly investigated and proper disciplinary action taken.”

“As Representative Bishop has said, any fair-minded review of the facts will conclude what we already know and what the donor in question has stated — there was no wrong-doing,” said Bishop campaign spokesman Bobby Pierce. “Over the next ten weeks, Randy Altschuler is going to do everything he can to get distract voters from the fact that he made millions of dollars outsourcing American jobs, that he is still invested in outsourcing American jobs to the tune of a half-million dollars, that he supports a budget that raises taxes on the middle class, and that he holds the extreme anti-choice view of Todd Akin that puts a rapist’s rights over a victim’s rights.”

Buying Congress

Tags: , ,

By Karl Grossman

A brilliant and shocking documentary was presented at a special screening this weekend. The message of “Casino Jack and the United States of Money” is that the conviction of lobbyist Jack Abramoff for fraud and conspiracy was not a unique case—his crimes are emblematic of how the U.S. government functions. It has become dominated by corporate interests, for sale to those who ply politicians with money.

In a question-and-answer session after the showing at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, this area’s representative in Washington, Congressman Tim Bishop, acknowledged that the documentary was an “accurate portrayal of the corruption of the senior leadership” of Congress in the early and middle 2000s. Still, “we should not generalize,” he said. Congress would “never have passed cap-and-trade or financial regulatory reform” last year “if we were captive to special interests.” However, “there is no question that money has a corrosive influence in how Congress does business” and “my fear,” said Mr. Bishop, “is that “recent actions will make it worse.” He’s especially concerned about the recent 5-to-4 Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case holding that corporate funding of “electioneering communication” cannot be limited.

The writer and director of the new documentary, Alex Gibney, earlier created a similarly hard-hitting documentary with “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.”

As Mr. Gibney says, in an interview shown before the documentary aired, Mr. Abramoff “was not a bad apple” but constitutes “spectacular evidence” of a “rotten barrel.” Our government has turned to a “system of legalized bribery,” says Mr. Gibney, “and we have to stop it or we’re done.”

The showing Saturday was free, made possible by the Sunlight Foundation and the organization Fix Congress First. It included, after the screening, the hour-long questioning of Mr. Bishop and a “community discussion.” Attendance was high and comments strong.

Scandal in Washington is not new, but what Mr. Gibney has put together is a crystal clear picture of the corrupt, wide-reaching “pay-to-play” system that has taken hold. He documents this through startling disclosures by those who’ve manipulated government with dollars and also politicians who’ve been on the receiving end, information from authors and journalists who’ve investigated the outrageous arrangement, and documents including emails and taped conversations.

Mr. Abramoff, it reveals, was involved in right-wing Republican politics for decades—with Karl Rowe and Ralph Reed among others. They reached their peak under the George W. Bush administration. Mr. Abramoff was jailed in 2006 for defrauding Indian tribes and paying off politicians. He partnered with former House GOP Leader Tom DeLay, now facing jail himself for campaign finance fraud. The Abramoff-Rowe-Reed cabal’s goal: massive government deregulation which it achieved—leading, shows the documentary, to the national financial collapse.

“How does it make you feel?…What can we do?” the event’s moderator, Michael Clarjen-Arconada, asked Mr. Bishop after the two-hour documentary ended. Mr. Bishop pointed to “public financing of campaigns…going a long, long way in getting the influence of big money out of Congressional elections.” And there needs to be “a serious public education campaign” about the Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case and other developments increasing corporate influence on government.

Among comments from audience members, retired New York City Police Lieutenant Larry Darcey of Sag Harbor said “corporate powers own our government” and “if the grassroots don’t change this, it will never change.”

Lisa Votino-Tarrant of Southampton noted that she is 31 years old and “we need to break the cycle” but “how can this be done” when it takes so much money to run for public office. “How are young people like me to get into public service without selling our souls?”

The two non-partisan foundations that sponsored the event outline on their websites—sunlightfoundation.com and fixcongressfirst.org—numerous steps to make “government transparent and accountable.” These include campaign reform through a Constitutional amendment and many citizen projects both national and local. “Casino Jack and the United States of Money” will be in movie theatres and on TV. See it to understand why it is urgent that action be taken.

Congressman Tim Bishop

Tags: , , , , ,

The local representative on preventing foreclosures, failures of the bailout and how Obama’s stimulus may help the East End

by Marianna Levine

This past Thursday, President elect Barack Obama gave a speech about the economy and in it he outlined his economic stimulus package. Could you tell me what aspects of it you agree with and how specifically it will be implemented here on the East End of Long Island?

I am in general agreement with the President’s outline. I think a lot of specifics need to be filled in but I believe that infrastructure spending provides us with the greatest bang for our buck in terms economic stimulus. So I think that is an imperative. Not only is it an imperative in terms of jump starting the economy it also gets us improvements that we need with highways, bridges, tunnels, airports and seaports.


Specifically for the east end of Long Island?

This is were the stimulus is a little difficult to explain. Both the President-elect and Speaker of House have made it clear there will be no earmarks in the stimulus package. That is to say there will be no congressional directive spending. Therefore the way the money is going to flow is that the money is going to go from the federal government to the states and the states are going to make the allocations. So this is not something the members of congress are going to be able to control. The judgments about what projects are getting the funding are going to be made by the government and the various state agencies like the department of transportation, or the state’s department of health and education.


If you were the one giving that speech, what would you state as your vision for economic stability and growth in the coming year for your constituency?

We have to do two things. We have to create jobs and put people back to work and that is what the economic stimulus package is all about. And the other thing is we have to keep people in their homes. Currently there are over 7,000 families a day being foreclosed out of their homes. The collapse of the housing market is at the root of the economic difficulties that we are now having and we are not going to climb our way out until we fix the housing market.

And we have to make much, much more effective use of the so-called TARP funds. They have also been called the “bail out”. TARP stands for Troubled Asset Recovery Program, and that’s the Wall Street bail out that the Congress passed back in October. We passed up to 700 billion. The first 350 has been spent by the current Secretary of the Treasury in a way that in my view has not facilitated economic recovery and absolutely has not facilitated keeping people in their homes. The President-elect has made it clear to the Congress that he now wishes us to release the second 350 billion, and I will only support that if it has a significant foreclosure mitigation built into it. I voted for the first TARP money thinking that was how it was going to be used. That’s exactly what the Congressional intent was for the money but that is not how the current Treasury Department used it.


What do you think can realistically be done to implement some of your wishes for our area in the next year or two?

If we pass the stimulus package and it is properly constructed then a significant portion of the money will go to infrastructure investment, and a significant portion will go to helping those in the greatest need — for unemployment compensation and food stamps and so on. I think that would be an effective stimulus package. If we can modify existing mortgages to make it easier for people to make their monthly payments, that’s what the second half of the TARP money will be about, then I think we will be successful in reducing the number of families who are currently being foreclosed from their homes.


Could you tell me briefly how government money from any sort of stimulus package gets distributed, and who decides the amounts and where the money goes?

The money is going to flow from the fed government to the state and there are existing formulas that govern that. For example, there will be money in the stimulus package we believe at the present time anyway for schools and there’s a formula about which federal money flows to the states to assist with K-12 education. By the way, all of this is very fluid. All of this could change or any bit of this could change. But the way it currently stands, existing formulas that govern federal moneys going to the states will be used to distribute the money.


Do you have any new thoughts on current bail out packages, and would you re-consider your vote on the banking bail out considering how many industries and institutions are now looking for a helping hand?

When I cast that vote back in October I absolutely was convinced it was the right vote. I am both very very angry and disappointed with how the Treasury Department took the authorization that Congress gave it. Congress made it very clear that the money was to be used back in October in a particular way and the Treasury Department didn’t use those funds in that way. And so, had I known the funds would be used in the way Sec. Paulson wound up using them, I would have voted no. But I continue to believe that the way Congress outlined the use of those fund was the right way to do it. Hopefully that is the way we’ll do it now when we release the second half of those funds.


What do you perceive to be the major political or economic concerns in the coming year that people haven’t considered yet? In other words, is there anything you know that we don’t yet?

The Economy. The over riding concern is the economy: the massive loss of jobs, massive reduction of consumer spending, and a huge loss of economic confidence on the part of everyone. Those are the three things we have to attack and attack as aggressively as possible. The government has to be the spender of last resort in order to stimulate demand. And we have to restore confidence to our financial markets and our credit markets. I believe we are on the right path. Let me lay it out for you, 70% of our economy is based on consumer spending so when people are spending less it has a ripple down effect through out the economy. If people aren’t going out to eat, then restaurants have to lay off people. Generally, reduced levels of economic activity are already being felt by some people every single day. Those who haven’t been affected yet, they ultimately will be. People are spending less and that has a dramatic effect on the economy.


During this past election cycle more people became involved in the actual political process than ever before, and now people may be wondering how they can continue to be involved in their local and national government. How do you think people can continue their involvement? In particular what do you think people can do to help the economy right now on a personal and local level so that they feel like they are making a difference and creating positive change?

Not to sound like George Bush, but people need to spend money. They need to be responsible about it because one of the ways we got into this mess is by people spending money they didn’t have by borrowing against their home equity or using up their credit cards and that’s part of the economic downturn now. People are finding themselves over extended. I think people need to be responsible but I say the principle thing that needs to happen is that the government needs to become the principle spender. I think if the government spends then others will follow suit.

Putting the economy aside for a second it’s a very encouraging development that so many people have gotten involved in the political process I hope they remain involved. We have a participatory democracy and it only really works if people participate. One of the great things about the Obama candidacy was the extent to which he energized people and brought people into the political process that previously hadn’t been.


Speaking of positive change, what do you think is going well here on Long Island, and what do you think will continue to go well?

Well, we have a very good quality of life here. We have remained very good at protecting our environment and open spaces. Our schools remain first-rate schools. Our communities are great communities in which to raise one’s family. We have very good economic stability here. Housing prices have dropped but not as dramatically as elsewhere in the country, and unemployment is up but not anywhere near as sharply as elsewhere in the country.


How will you be spending Inauguration Day?

I’ll go to inauguration itself with my family, and I will be doing a series of press interviews. I’ll be hosting a reception with Steve Israel from the neighboring congressional district for people coming down from Suffolk County.


Did you have a large number of requests for Inaugural tickets? How were they dispersed and do you know if anyone from Sag Harbor is going?

Fred Thiele is coming with his kids. We had several thousand requests for tickets. We put a few tickets aside for other elected officials such as Fred, but for the most part we released the tickets to the public and had a lottery. It was the only fair way to do it.



Endorsement: Bishop for Congress

Tags: ,

Congressman Tim Bishop has a worthy opponent in Republican candidate Lee Zeldin, who in his first race for political office has shown poise, intelligence and charisma often not seen in an inaugural run for office. At the tender age of 28, Zeldin has an impressive resume including his military service – which landed him in Iraq as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division – and a career in law. For the most part, during this campaign, Zeldin showed he was educated on many of the issues and willing to take unpopular stances, even within his own party — it’s an attitude we wish we could see more of in Washington.

However, Bishop has proven himself a valuable representative for the East End over the course of the last six years and has our endorsement for another term in Congress.

We find ourselves impressed with Bishop’s command of all the issues. No matter where debates took the candidates he was easily able to follow, his responses confident, well informed and well considered. In terms of the responsiveness to his constituency, we have found Bishop is the kind of Congressman who has always made himself available, no matter the issue, an asset we consider valuable on the East End.

Personality aside and looking towards the issues, we agree with Bishop’s stance on a number of topics, including his call for universal health care, education initiatives and how the country can begin to address the fiscal crisis we find ourselves in.

Bishop has called for greater oversight in our financial markets. It is the initiatives of the financial markets and subsequent fallout that is largely why we find ourselves in a national economic crisis. We stand with Bishop in his call for regulation.

Ditto on Bishop’s stance on No Child Left Behind, a federal mandate this paper has been critical of since its implementation. The unfunded mandates of No Child Left Behind are patently unfair to both the states and the school districts attempting to comply with this program.

It is time once and for all that this and many other policies change in Washington D.C., and hopefully next year under a new regime that includes Congressman Bishop we will start to see some changes we can all be proud of.


Focus On Economy As Congressional Race Nears

Tags: , , , ,

With just a month left before East End residents hit voting booths on November 4, incumbent U.S. Congressman Tim Bishop, a Democrat, finds himself in a race for his seat in the House of Representatives against a 28-year-old attorney and Iraqi war veteran, Republican Lee Zeldin who has thrown his hat — and divergent opinions — into the political ring.

This week, both candidates took some time to discuss a wide range of issues as they look towards squaring off in a League of Women Voters of the Hamptons sponsored debate in Hamptons Bays on October 16 at 7 p.m.

With brokers on Wall Street and residents on Main Street watching news on the nation’s uncertain economy with trepidation, Bishop and Zeldin present differing opinions on the cause, and ultimate solution to what has emerged as one of the central questions this political season.

Bishop, a 12th generation Southampton Town resident and former provost at Southampton College, sees a number of issues driving an unstable economy — an economy he says is a result of eight years of failed economic policies under president George W. Bush’s administration.

“That was exacerbated by a serious meltdown in the housing market, which has now brought rise to serious freezing of the credit market,” explained Bishop on Tuesday. “We have people losing jobs, the cost of everything is going up. We have diminished credit markets and a spike in foreclosures. So I see at the very least four severe, but interrelated problems.”

Bishop says the government must be an active part of a solution to mitigate these problems, with the recently passed $700 billion bailout bill as just a piece of the solution.

“I am very hopeful that once it starts to move, once it starts to work through the financial system it will have beneficial results,” he said.

Bishop also calls for a second economic stimulus package to compliment the package passed by Congress last February. The House of Representatives did pass a $66 billion stimulus package two weeks ago with some bi-partisan support, noted Bishop, although the bill was stalled in the Senate. He said it went a long way towards helping those who will feel this economic pinch the most by, in part, extending unemployment limits and providing monies to states for infrastructure, which in turn would create employment opportunities.

While Zeldin, a Shirley resident, acknowledges the country is in the midst of a financial crisis, he disagrees that the $700 billion bailout plan, in either incarnation, is the solution the American people need to get through the predicament.

“I don’t believe Main Street should have to bail out Wall Street,” said Zeldin. “Seven hundred billion, not to mention all the added pork, made it a bill I truly lost sleep over when it passed.”

Zeldin did argue that private capital, rather than taxpayer dollars, should have been injected into Wall Street.

He added that he sees himself disagreeing with a number of Washington insiders when it comes to the subject, noting not just Democrats, but Republicans, including president Bush and presidential candidate John McCain have disagreed, supporting the bail out instead.

“I see things, unfortunately, in the short term, getting worse before they get better,” said Zeldin. “We are going into a winter where people are going to be shocked by high heating costs in [comparison to what will amount to] a small mortgage payment. So for many of us living paycheck to paycheck, it will be a rough winter.”

Ultimately, Zeldin believes government needs to curb wasteful spending before it will truly help the American people, calling for an earmark moratorium until the system is fixed to where it no longer represents quid pro quo between politicians and lobbyists. He would also like to see untaxed income that leaves the country through money wiring services taxed and given back to the communities it originates from to bring down the costs of school and property taxes.

 Zeldin sees that issue tied directly to what he called the government’s failed immigration policies. For the last two years, H-2B visas have been a source of contention for local business reliant on the federal program for legal, seasonal workers from overseas. In recent years, the program has been limited, leaving many without a seasonal workforce.

Zeldin said more H-2B visas should be granted, but added there also needs to be accountability enforced when it comes to immigration policies.

“When I started my race in Amagansett in January of 2008, I talked to someone with a small business that was going under because he refused to pay employees off the books, which would have allowed him to compete with those not paying taxes for their workers or workman’s compensation,” said Zeldin. “That is a real problem.”

Bishop, who has worked with local business leaders in trying to find a solution to the H-2B crisis, acknowledged he and other members of Congress from areas dependent on seasonal tourism were unsuccessful in their fight to fix the situation.

“We will go back at it this winter,” he said. “Unfortunately, the H-2B visa problem got caught up in the larger issue of the immigration debate.”

Bishop still supports the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill, which would have provided a path to citizenship or legal status for a number of illegal immigrants currently working or living in the United States.

“It’s a good bill,” said Bishop. “I believe we need to somehow summon the wisdom and political will to act on that. But at minimum, we have to fix the H-2B visa problems and the agricultural visa issues. Talk to vineyard owners and small vegetable farmers on the North Fork. Eighty eight percent say they can accommodate no loss in their immigrant work force.”

Zeldin said he does not support McCain-Kennedy, and would rather see those immigrants in the United States assimilate into the country, rather than the country assimilate to them.

Bishop sees his work on a number of issues including Federal Aviation Administration legislation to mandate altitude limits for helicopters, work with the Army Corps of Engineers for a Fire Island to Montauk coastal erosion study, and tax initiatives to prevent farmers from having to sell their land in the face of looming estate taxes as just a few he is tackling in his sixth year as a congressman.

“I think my opponent is offering a lot more of the same,” said Bishop. “I offer the same level of commitment I have for the last six years and I believe with my experience and I believe with a majority in the house, the senate and, I am fairly certain, the White House, I will be in a position to influence policy decisions.”

If elected, Zeldin has a number of initiatives he would like to explore, including pushing the East End to the forefront of environmental sustainability, he said. But ultimately, he sees his values as what should ultimately give him an edge over Bishop come November.

“Adding my voice to congress is adding an independent voice who understands no leader in any party is right serving this congressional district by voting with his party 99 percent of the time,” said Zeldin, attacking a predisposition by Bishop, he said, towards simply voting his party line. “What we need is to send a bulldog to Washington that is going to fight for us, stand up for us across party lines … we need to be more fiscally responsible in how we tax and spend.”



A Wary Main Street Waits On Congress Bailout Vote

Tags: , , , , ,

As the nation waits with bated breath while the United States Congress takes another stab at a $700 billion bank rescue plan some government officials say is aimed at protecting the economy from virtual collapse, communities across the country are wondering how the mistakes made on Wall Street will change their way of life on Main Street in the coming year.

According to Congressman Tim Bishop, if the government sits idly by as credit and loan markets continue to shrink, and banks and investment houses fold, Main Street will undoubtedly feel the effects of the shaky economy in a major way and in some cases Main Street already is.

Last night, on Wednesday, October 1 the United States Senate was scheduled to vote on a new $700 billion economic bailout plan, and early reports showed strong expectations across party lines that the measure would pass. According to Congressman Bishop, the House of Representatives would then consider the bill today, Thursday, or Friday.

The expectations surrounding Wednesday’s vote echoed similar hopes on Capital Hill last weekend, prior to a defeated bailout bill in the House on Monday, 228-205 – a bill Congressman Bishop voted in favor of. On its face, the bill would have provided $350 billion to financial institutions, with another $350 billion available under Congress review. Following the House’s defeat of the bill the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell over 700 points, a historic decrease. Although the markets rallied on Tuesday with the news that Congress would take another stab at the economic recovery bill, Bishop said on Wednesday if something is not done to help stabilize the economy, Wall Street will not be the only ones affected by what follows, but our local Main Streets as well.

“I think the risk to Main Street is enormous if we do not fix this,” said Bishop. “People talk about this plan as a ‘Wall Street bailout,’ and what we are really trying to do is protect Main Street. Whether we like it or not, our economy is rooted in the credit markets.”

 Bishop said the East End of Long Island was not immune to the downturn in the economy, noting on Wednesday morning he had already received news that he viewed as a possible harbinger of things to come.

“I was just told this morning that one of the largest builders on the East End has laid off 40 workers,” he said. “That is on Main Street, not Wall Street.”

 “So I do believe we have to move aggressively to fix this and doing so is much less about bailing out a reckless and greedy Wall Street and more about protecting our neighbors,” said Bishop.

According to Greg Ferraris, mayor and resident in Sag Harbor, in his professional opinion as a certified public accountant who represents a number of East End businesses, there very well could be ramifications locally as a result of the fiscal crisis if action is not taken.

“Certain industries have already been affected by the slow down and the housing crisis that has turned into a complete economic crisis,” he said.

Ferraris added he believed under the right circumstances the storm could be weathered, and blamed the media for painting a far gloomier portrait of the economic climate to come, which has in turn affected the market. He did acknowledge without the right plan in place, and without people beginning to take more responsibility for spending practices, things could get worse and easily trickle down to Main Street businesses.

One industry that has seen a downturn is real estate on the East End, an economic bastion for many as prices soared over decades.

On Wednesday, Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce President and real estate agent with Prudential Douglas Elliman Robert Evjen said one of the biggest challenges facing a slowing real estate market today was tightening loan and credit markets.

According to Evjen, many felt the tightening of the credit, loan, and real estate markets as early as last spring. But regardless, said Evjen, he does not believe the market locally will be impacted as dramatically as the rest of the country.

“I still feel to this day that we are insulated compared to the rest of the country,” said Evjen. “I don’t think any other real estate market is as closely tied to Wall Street as a secondary home market in the Hamptons.”

And while Wall Street may be suffering as of late, Evjen said from a real estate perspective there are two ways to look at the current economy – it can bode badly as Wall Street won’t see the kind of bonuses that led to record breaking sales or it could benefit the housing market as brokers look to invest in, and cash in on, a slowing market.

“I would still look for value in real estate like this before putting my money in the markets, where it is more likely to take a dive,” said Evjen. “Now is the time to buy.”

As for Main Street’s economy, as Chamber president, Evjen said he did believe shoppers would be more cautious in their purchases, avoiding big ticket items, but nonetheless shopping.

“I think Main Street here is insulated in the type of guests we have – visitors that have discretionary incomes, whereas other communities will have a much tougher go of things,” said Evjen. “I think we will be okay.”

What was of particular interest to Evjen was what effect the credit crunch and fiscal crisis would have on local lending institutions, which he said roughly 80 percent of Sag Harbor businesses relied on for revolving loans to cover large, seasonal purchases.

“It’s amazing how we are all tied into this,” he said.

According to Douglas Shaw, senior vice president at Suffolk County National Bank and Kevin O’Connor, President and CEO of Bridgehampton National Bank, businesses should not be worried, as both banks reported their conservative lending practices have protected the institutions from the same catastrophe facing banks that took on risky loans.

Shaw and O’Connor noted what these banks failed to do, and what Suffolk County National and BNB did not overlook, was to assess one’s capacity for paying back a loan in the first place.

 “We’ve been in business for 118 years and while we have evolved the fundamental requirements we have had have not changed that much,” said Shaw “Running our business this way is good for the bank, good for the borrower, good for the employees of the bank and good for the community.”

“We are still making loans and local business can still come to us,” said O’Connor. “We are open for business …We have been asked if we have tightened our credit standards, and our response is we never loosened them.”

Shaw added he believes a number of community banks have maintained these types of conservative standards, which will help weather the storm ahead.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.