Ethics Panel Extends Bishop Probe

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The House Committee on Ethics is continuing an investigation of U.S. Representative Tim Bishop a year after a political news outlet reported that the congressman’s campaign had solicited a donation from a hedge fund investor after agreeing to help him get federal permits for a fireworks show to celebrate his son’s bar mitzvah.

On July 26, the committee said it received a referral in June from the independent Office of Congressional Ethics to extend the investigation to September 11, when it likely will release the Office of Congressional Ethics’s findings. An official with the committee declined to comment on the probe but pointed to a press release saying that the move does not indicate that any violation has occurred or reflect any judgment.

Mr. Bishop responded to the announcement in a statement on Monday: “As I have said many times, I welcome a fair-minded review of the facts, because I have done nothing wrong.”

The U.S. House Committee on Ethics warns against campaign contributions that are connected to official actions.

The publication and website Politico reported last August, in the thick of Mr. Bishop’s campaign against challenger Randy Altschuler, that Mr. Bishop had helped Eric Semler, a district resident who wanted to throw a bar mitzvah party for his son in Southampton, by securing required environmental permits for a show by Fireworks by Grucci. The company is partially run by Felix J. Grucci Jr., a former congressman whom Mr. Bishop ousted from office in 2002; Diana Weir, Mr. Altschuler’s campaign manager, was formerly Mr. Grucci’s finance director.

Three days before the party, Mr. Bishop’s daughter and then campaign fundraiser, Molly Bishop, sent Mr. Semler an email. “Our Finance Chair, Bob Sillerman suggested to my dad that you were interested in contribution [sic] to his campaign and that I should be in touch directly with you,” a copy of the short email said. “We are going to be in a tough, expensive campaign and so we are very grateful for your willingness to be of help. 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.”

The Bishop campaign maintained that Ms. Bishop’s correspondence was merely following up on a request by Mr. Semler for information about donation limits, and there was no attempt to link the congressman’s help to the donation.

Federal Election Commission records showed that Eric and Tracy Semler donated a combined total of $5,000—$2,500 each—on June 26.

In a copy of an email exchange obtained by The Press between Mr. Semler and Mr. Grucci’s brother-in-law, M. Phillip Butler, who is employed by Fireworks by Grucci, Mr. Semler wrote, “Phil—I forgot to mention also that I have to give $10k to Tim Bishop’s campaign for his help with the fireworks. Please take that into consideration.”

According to a copy of the exchange, Mr. Butler followed up with an email on June 20 to Mr. Semler and asked him, “Did you ever have to pay Bishop for his help?”

Mr. Semler replied the next day with, “Yes—$10k.” He also added that he wanted a full refund for the show, and that falling ash from the fireworks display had damaged a neighbor’s Bentley. “I would like a full refund—the cost of the show per your website is $7,500 (pre-discount). The damages exceed that. If I don’t receive payment from you by Friday, June 22, for the full amount we paid, then I will assume you are not willing to resolve this amicably,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, in later media reports, Mr. Semler was quoted as saying neither Mr. Bishop nor his staff sought a donation in exchange for their help.

Mr. Semler did not return calls seeking comment this week.

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