Facing what could be the biggest challenge of his political career, Congressman Tim Bishop recently formed his own political action committee, or PAC, a move the fifth-term congressman says enables him to help other Democrats raise cash without dipping into his own campaign fund.
Mr. Bishop (D-Southampton) said he formed BISHOP (Building Infrastructure Harnessing Our Priorities) PAC as a new outlet to raise funds for other Democrats on Capitol Hill who face tight races in 2012.
“I can raise money separately for the PAC and use that money to contribute to the campaign funds of Democrats positioned similarly to me,” Mr. Bishop said in a telephone interview Thursday. “In the past, I’ve transferred money from my campaign. This will enable me to help other Democrats without taking money out of my campaign fund.
“Quite honestly, I’ll need every penny from my campaign this year,” he added.
That’s because Mr. Bishop faces a likely rematch with Republican hopeful Randy Altschuler, the St. James businessman Mr. Bishop edged by just 593 votes when he won re-election in 2010.
Mr. Altschuler declared his intention early in 2011 to challenge Mr. Bishop again, and he’s received early support from two Republican heavy hitters, Suffolk County Republican Committee chairman John Jay LaValle and former N.Y. Governor George Pataki. Campaign disclosure reports for Mr. Altschuler, who poured $3 million into his own campaign in 2010, already show more than $420,000 in cash on hand.
Records show that Mr. Bishop’s daughter, Molly, a longtime political consultant who specializes in fundraising, filed paperwork to form BISHOP PAC on Nov. 10, 2011, two days after Election Day. Ms. Bishop is listed as treasurer of the committee, which is registered as a Leadership PAC free to contribute to multiple campaigns.
Critics of political action committees connected to individual politicians have been skeptical of the growing practice, saying it gives elected officials certain freedoms not bestowed upon traditional campaign committees, even if direct transfers from a PAC to an official’s campaign fund are not permitted. For example, an elected official can use PAC money to pay for travel expenses or to hire additional campaign staff. And PACs have the option of filing finance reports only quarterly, free of certain pre- and post-Election Day filings.
Mr. Bishop says he doesn’t plan to take advantage of any of those freedoms.
“What traveling?” he said. “I don’t travel much outside of what I do for my job and that’s reimbursed by the federal government.”
Mr. Bishop said he plans to have the same size campaign staff he had in 2010, employing a campaign manager, field director and several field operatives. His PAC will also use the more stringent option of filing monthly campaign finance reports, though its December report showed it had yet to raise any funds.
Mr. Bishop estimated there are between 150 and 200 PACs connected to Congress, a strategy employed on both sides of the aisle.
“It’s very common,” he said. “I’m late to the party.”
Though he expects a tight race in 2012, Mr. Bishop, whose campaign fund reported just under $1 million cash on hand in September, said he’s been pleased both by the response from the public as he’s made his way through his East End district and by data compiled in polling conducted in conjunction with other key Suffolk races.
He said county Democrats included questions about Mr. Bishop in polling they did for the recent campaigns of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko and other races for the Legislature.
Favorables, which he said sank to the high teens and low 20s in polling conducted during the health care debate, are back into the high 40s and low 50s.
The D.C.-based political blog Politico recently included the Bishop seat as one of 10 key races in Congress this year.
“Bishop’s Long Island-area seat has emerged as one of the most competitive in the country,” Politico wrote. “The district has alternated between supporting Democrats and Republicans in the past three presidential elections. If Republicans can win here, it will indicate that they’ve won the backing of upper-income suburban white voters who favored Democrats in 2008.”