The rematch for the First Congressional District of New York is heating up, with a barrage of attacks and gauntlets being thrown down by both Representative Tim Bishop and Randy Altschuler, his Republican opponent.
Mr. Bishop has been in the hot seat this week in the wake of ethical questions concerning donations his campaign solicited from a hedge fund investor this spring while the congressman was helping him to obtain permission for a fireworks display at his son’s bar mitzvah in Southampton.
According to Politico, a Virginia news outlet that covers Washington, D.C., politics, Mr. Bishop “agreed to intercede. But before Bishop and his aides completed their work on his behalf, [Eric] Semler received a request from the congressman’s campaign staff [. . .] for a contribution of up to $10,000 to Bishop’s reelection campaign.”
In a letter sent to the congressman last Thursday, Mr. Altschuler challenged Mr. Bishop to “publicly call for an official ethics investigation” into his own actions and those of his staff “in regards to the fund-raising e-mail solicitation sent to Mr. Semler while his fireworks permits hung in the balance.”
On May 21, Mr. Semler turned to Mr. Bishop for help in obtaining requisite permits from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Village of Southampton for a Grucci fireworks display to commemorate his son’s May 26 bar mitzvah.
According to the Politico article, two days later, before the permits had been secured, Molly Bishop, the congressman’s daughter and fund-raiser, e-mailed Mr. Semler saying she had received word from Robert F.X. Sillerman, a longtime supporter of her father, that Mr. Semler was interested in contributing to the Bishop campaign.
Prior to June 26, the campaign could have accepted a donation of $10,000; after that date, federal campaign finance laws limited the Semlers’ donation to $5,000. Mr. Semler and his wife donated $5,000 to the campaign on June 26. The donation was equal to the cost of the brief Grucci Fireworks display at their son’s bar mitzvah.
According to the Bishop campaign, it is common for the congressman to help his constituents navigate the bureaucratic labyrinth. Even his Web site says so: “I can help with any problems First District residents may be having with federal agencies, including problems with Social Security, labor issues, housing, passports, veterans affairs, and immigration.”
The timeline between contact and the congressman’s action creates a question of whether there is a violation of a House Ethics Manual rule which specifies that “a solicitation for campaign or political contributions may not be linked with an official action taken or to be taken by a House member or employee, and a member may not accept any contribution that is linked with an action that the member has taken or is being asked to take.”
Politico obtained e-mail correspondence between Mr. Semler and the Grucci company in which Mr. Semler was critical of the Bishop campaign’s request, but in the Politico article, Mr. Semler was quoted as saying he was happy to support Mr. Bishop’s reelection effort.
Mr. Bishop has since re-donated the Semlers’ contribution to three Long Island veterans groups, “out of abundance of caution.”
But Mr. Altschuler is determined to not let Bishop off the hook so easily. In the same letter calling on him to request an ethics investigation, Mr. Altschuler restated criticisms that the congressman uses his office to financially benefit family and friends, “while demonstrating an inability to determine what passes the smell test and what doesn’t.”
“The bipartisan Committee for Ethics and Responsibility views the congressman as someone who abuses his office,” Diana Weir, an Altschuler campaign spokeswoman, said yesterday. “It’s disheartening that when people are losing jobs and struggling on Long Island that these are the types of things Tim Bishop is involved in.”
“If he wants a gratuity, he should go work at Gurney’s,” Ms. Weir said.
In a telephone conversation on Tuesday, a Bishop campaign representative was determined to “stay on message,” attacking recent vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” budget plan, which calls for a Medicare overhaul, repeal of the health care reform law, and a federal cap on non-defense spending, and an extension of 2001-03 tax cuts. Mr. Bishop claims that Mr. Ryan’s budget is “intentionally vague about the specific changes it would make to tax provisions currently on the books.” But “the G.O.P. needs to go on record [with] what tax benefits for the middle class it will sacrifice to provide another rate cut for the wealthiest.”
Mr. Bishop won his 2010 race against Mr. Altschuler by fewer than 600 votes, and it has long been known that the national Republican Committee is again targeting his seat. Once again, the congressman is looking vulnerable.
In a July 31 poll conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, Mr. Altschuler led the five-term congressman by four points, with 47 percent of those surveyed supporting him. The poll indicates that 10 percent of voters were undecided.
The election will be held on Nov. 6.
After publication of this story, the Bishop campaign took issue with the Pulse Opinion Research poll. In an e-mail, Robert Pierce, a campaign spokesman, wrote that polling by Mr. Bishop's side showed him with the lead.