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Bruce Bialosky

The Scam of Book Sales

The Left has gone after members of the U.S. Supreme Court on drummed up ethics charges. Whether the Justices have violated any ethics rules (which they have all denied in specificity as to their filings and their actions) is in the eye of the beholder. What we want to explore is how people in public office make significant income from book sale advances and then book sales.

The issue recently exploded because of an Associated Press (AP) story that focused on the left leaning Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The big issue regarding Justice Sotomayor was how she milked sales through her speeches. Instead of receiving speaking fees at her favorite “nonprofit” or university, the speech sponsor would buy hundreds of her books to be distributed to the guests at the events. The left-of-center press actually picked up this story.

The conflict’s focus delineated by the AP is that Sotomayor used her Supreme Court staff to arrange the sales. The AP pointed out that this use of staff is illegal (unethical) for people in Congress or the Executive Branch. What the AP does not point out is that Congressional members just kick this function to their campaign committees. Needless to say, members of the Supreme Court don’t have campaign committees. Nevertheless, the end result (books sales) is the same.

If you enter a bookstore (I know that it is kind of old fashioned) you will find an amazing number of political memoirs. My question is, who is reading all of these books? It seems like every elected official or former elected official has a memoir out or did at one point. Quite frankly, I have little or no interest in them at all. And I say that as a certified political junkie.

Mitch McConnell, U.S. Senate minority leader, has authored two books. God knows who writes these things. It is hard to tell how many books he has sold, but we do know he received an advance of $145,000 for the last one in 2015. Can we guess how many books were handed out to his biggest contributors? How many were sold as part of speeches he gave?
It is nearly impossible to discover what the actual sales are for most of these books. The publishers are paying money to elected officials or highly influential appointed officials that we have no idea whether they are recouping.

Let’s be clear. These are capitalistic companies with a profit motive. They are paying money out in the hopes of recouping those monies and more to create profit, that evil word to the tender ears of the Left.
It just seems that book sales are exempted from any kind of oversight. What is the justification for that being an acceptable form of income and other forms such as speaking fees are not?

Many years ago, I was part of a select team who were advising Dennis Prager on a potential run for Barbara Boxer’s U.S. Senate seat. Among the many considerations for Mr. Prager – like with many candidates (Republicans) — was a financial consideration. He comes from private industry and not career politics. His streams of income would be prohibited if he were elected except for book sales. Dennis is a legitimate author who writes his own books, but his latest – The Rational Bible – is not aimed towards heavy sales. His anticipated loss of income was one of the many reasons you don’t see him in the United States Senate today.

The only books that seem to warrant these huge advances are the ones coming from national figures. Presidents walk out of the White House signing book deals in the stratosphere like the Obamas’ deal with a $65 million advance. The Clintons have been able to wrangle book deals on a continuous basis. So have the Bushes. At least they sell books. We still have no idea whether these are profitable deals or disguised bribes.

Then there is the case of the Supremes who have lifetime jobs and restricted outside revenue. They make a genuinely nice salary — $274,200 as of 2022 — which is a pittance compared to what they would make in the private sector. In the case of Sotomayor, she has collected $3.7 million from book sales since her 2009 appointment to the Court. As opposed to many of the people mentioned above, I am confident the Supremes write their own books. After all they do a lot of writing as part of their job even though sometimes that writing can be murky.

The emphasis in the case of Sotomayor is her use of staff to arrange speeches with book sales. The stench of so many of our elected officials, in and out of office, profiteering on their positions by writing books (if they actually write them) has become somewhat of a joke. Fat advances and no accounting for whether the publishers make the money back is the problem.

The fact that this is the only exempt area is quite interesting. It is still better than members of Congress making individual stock trades or providing insider information to their spouses (hello Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein). The bigger question is how do all these elected officials increase their net worth by so much while receiving their government salaries?