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Senators Use Campaign-Donor Money To Buy Their Own Books

At least six senators who disclosed receiving income from books in 2020—Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)—apparently used money from campaign donors to buy their own books.

The transactions all seem to be legal. Lawmakers are allowed to dip into their campaign coffers to boost book sales, so long as those sales do not increase their personal royalties. “Both the House and Senate place dollar limits on outside employment, but there is?an exception for publishing contracts, which are pre-approved by the ethics committees,” said Brett Kappel, an attorney specializing in campaign finance at Harmon, Curran, Spielberg Eisenberg. “The FEC has issued a long series of advisory opinions allowing members to use campaign funds to buy copies of their own books at a discount from the publisher,?provided that the royalties they would normally receive on those sales are given to charity.” 

Spokespeople for four of the senators all said the campaigns followed the law regarding royalties. 

Even when author royalties go to charity, publishers still make money. That could theoretically prompt certain firms to dole out bigger advances to politicians, knowing they can lock in bulk buys from political committees. A veteran literary agent whose clients have included government officials, however, said that in his experience, no publisher ever discussed his client’s ability to make bulk purchases with campaign funds. And for such purchases to help politicians land on all-important bestseller lists, they would need to go through retailers. All of the purchases Forbes identified were made directly from a publisher, with the exception of those from Sen. Tim Scott’s (R-S.C.) campaign.

Duckworth was the senate’s highest-paid wordsmith, receiving $382,000 from Hachette Book Group in 2020, more than

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