Politico has an interesting story out of New York’s first congressional district: Eric Semler wanted to throw his son a Bar Mitzvah bash that he would never forget — capped by a fireworks show near the hedge fund investor’s Southampton, N.Y., home — but he needed Rep. Tim Bishop’s help.
The fireworks company Semler hired hadn’t received government permits needed to put on the display. So on May 21, with the party just five days away, Semler contacted the Democratic congressman and asked for his help.
Bishop agreed to intercede. But before Bishop and his aides completed their work on his behalf, Semler received a request from the congressman’s campaign staff, according to documents obtained by POLITICO and multiple interviews: For a contribution of up to $10,000 to Bishop’s reelection campaign.
“Our Finance Chair, Bob Sillerman suggested to my dad that you were interested in contribution to his campaign and that I should be in touch directly with you. We are going to be in a tough, expensive campaign and so we are very grateful for your willingness to be of help,” the congressman’s daughter and fundraiser, Molly Bishop, wrote to Semler in a May 23 email, three days before the party, when it was still unknown whether the permits would come through.
“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,” she added.
Tim Bishop received $5,000 combined from Semler and his wife on June 26, the first time the couple had given to the five-term congressman.
The two men have conflicting accounts of who broached the donation: Bishop said Semler volunteered the money as a show of thanks, and his campaign was just following up; Semler said the congressman’s staff solicited him.
But House ethics rules don’t make that distinction: A member or his staff can’t solicit or accept a campaign contribution tied to an official action.
In interviews, both men insisted they had done nothing wrong.
“I did my job. I was asked to fix a problem for a constituent that I did not create. I fixed it,” Bishop said. “I never directly solicited him. We told him how he could help. And then a month later, he helped.”
As for Semler, a few days after the party he complained in an email to employees of Grucci Firework that Bishop “didn’t hestitate to solicit me in the heat of battle” and called the request, for up to $10,000, “really gross.”
But in an email to Bishop after the party and again in an interview this week, Semler praised the congressman’s efficient work to help secure the permits and said that nothing untoward occurred. Semler repeated, however, that it was Bishop’s campaign staff that brought up the idea of a donation.