Bishop’s Bar Mitzvah Blunder

This is the story of Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton, L.I.) and the bar mitzvah favor that he may already be regretting.

First, let’s be clear. It’s election time and Bishop again finds himself in a race for his political life.

The man seeking to unseat him is Republican Randy Altschuler, who lost two years ago by just 593 votes. This year’s race is expected to be equally close. As a result, any perceived misstep is going to be magnified.

The website Politico suggests that Bishop may have made a fatal mistake by helping a constituent, former New York Times reporter and now hedge fund investor Eric Semler, secure the necessary government permits to allow Grucci Fireworks to put on a pyrotechnic display to celebrate the bar mitzvah of Semler’s son.

Not that there was anything wrong in helping a constituent, mind you. It’s just that Bishop’s daughter and fundraiser, Molly, was so anxious for Semler’s money that she hit him up for a contribution to her Dad’s re-election campaign even before the permits were obtained.

Politico’s John Bresnahan said the request was for $10,000 and that Molly made the solicitation in an e-mail two days after Semler first approached Bishop for help on May 21 — and just three days before the bar mitzvah.

"We are in a tough, expensive campaign and so we are very grateful for your willingness to be of help,” Molly wrote. “If you make a contribution before June 26th you and your wife may each contribute up to $5,000; after June 26th the most you can each contribute is $2,500.”

Semler waited until June 26 and then sent a $5,000 contribution from himself and his wife. Politico noted that it was the first time the Semlers had contributed to the five-term congressman.

Politico suggested that Bishop might have run afoul of House rules that bar a congressman or his staff from soliciting or accepting a campaign contribution tied to an official action. It said this includes campaign contributions offered to a lawmaker especially when a request for an official action is pending or has occurred.

It went on to note that both men said they had done nothing wrong – although they gave the online publication differing versions of what happened. Bishop insists that Semler volunteered the donation as show of appreciation and that Molly’s e-mail was just a follow-up. Semler said Bishop’s staff solicited the money.

In a statement issued today (8/15), Altschuler campaign manager Diana Weir said this “possibly illegal behavior” has been committed by a “politician who has been in Washington for too long. … After 10 years in Congress, he doesn’t even understand House Ethics rules.”

Noting that Semler was quoted as calling the Bishop solicitation “really gross,” Weir said Suffolk residents “are entitled to know whether it was a crime.”
Oh, by the way, that fireworks display was launched from Semler’s roof and debris from the fireworks landed on a neighbor’s Bentley – costing Semler $7,500 in repairs.

Sounds like the bar mitzvah treat proved to be a costly event for both Bishop and Semler.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.