Sometimes a fancy bar mitzvah just isn't worth the trouble. At least that is what Representative Tim Bishop (D-NY) is finding out after helping his constituent Eric Semler get the necessary permits for a fancy Grucci fireworks show near his Long Island home meant to celebrate Semler's son becoming a man. If only the hedge fund investor hadn't offered (or been asked, depending on who is talking) to donate a cool $5,000 to Bishop after asking for help!
The story goes something like this: Semler hadn't gotten the right permits to have a massive fireworks display near his Southampton home on May 21. So five days before the party he reached out to Bishop to help him get through the political hoops. And Bishop did help (though the fireworks were moved from a barge to his roof to protect nearby Piping Plovers). But before the party, Semler also got a letter from the Long Island pol's daughter (and fundraiser) Molly Bishop that said, according to Politico:
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...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 problem is, Congressmen aren't supposed to solicit or even accept campaign contributions tied to an official action. And though both sides now say the donation was totally cool and not solicited, an e-mail Politico got its paws on from Semler says Bishop "didn’t hestitate to solicit me in the heat of battle" and called the request, for up to $10,000, "really gross." Whoops!
"I did my job. I was asked to fix a problem for a constituent that I did not create. I fixed it," Bishop told Politico. "I never directly solicited him. We told him how he could help. And then a month later, he helped." He says that the "really gross" e-mail was taken out of context and that Semler at the time was letting off steam with Grucci—which damaged a neighbor's Bentley during the fireworks show. "I’m not saying he was lying. I am saying he exaggerated, if you will, the consternation and aggravation that he was put through as a result of the what he viewed—and I am not sharing this necessarily—as the incompetence of the company he was dealing with," Bishop said.
As for Semler? He says Bishop "never said anything to me about a donation. I didn’t know he was running for reelection. After the fact, after I got the permit, I did receive a request for a donation. He didn’t tell me, one of his campaign people told me, that he was in a hot race and needed a lot of support. I would love to support a guy like that."
Hopefully the fireworks were worth the headaches coming Bishop's way right before an election that could be tight. Bishop won his last election by a margin of 593 votes.