Hillary Clinton Book Deal Raises Ethics Issues

By Cheryl K. Chumley | July 7, 2008 | 8:27pm EDT

(CNSNews.com) - Senator-elect Hillary Clinton's $8 million book deal could compromise any integrity she possesses as a political figure, legal scholars said Monday, referring to a variety of ethical considerations and comparing her publishing agreement to the one negotiated for then-House Speaker-elect Newt Gingrich in 1994.

Clinton's Friday announcement, to accept the publishing deal from Simon & Schuster - a New York based company owned by the media conglomerate, Viacom - could be construed as ethically questionable on several levels, said Ron Rotunda, a visiting senior fellow in Constitutional studies at the Cato Institute and a professor of law at the University of Illinois.

"She is more than the First Lady writing her memoirs," Rotunda said. "She's a senator with power to affect all kinds of things. Will she disqualify herself in any matter related to Viacom? And if she does ... is she depriving her constituents basically of their voice?"

Viacom, he added, was a "huge" and "merging" corporation, whose officials bring "issues [to] Washington all the time."

The financial terms of the agreement are also "huge," according to Carol Schneider, vice president for publicity at Random House publishers in New York. "It's a lot of money," she said.

Clinton has reportedly said she will give a portion of the book advance proceeds to charity, but that promise does not "tell anybody how much," Rotunda said, and is therefore an "ambiguous" statement, meaningless until records prove she actually donated an amount high enough to satisfy all questions.

A Senate Select Committee on Ethics spokesperson declined to comment on the deal, but provided documents that showed royalties and advance fees for books are not considered earned income, and are therefore not subject to the same strict regulations applied to other senatorial sources of money.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott Sunday said neither he nor the Republican Party would make an issue of Clinton's advance fee. Others, too, have argued there's nothing wrong with a political figure exerting free market rights.

"Hillary Clinton is free to pursue whatever book deal she can get," said Lee Lerner, director of public affairs at the Heartland Institute in Chicago. "There may be some political repercussions, but legally, ethically, I don't see anything wrong with it."

Lerner said most of the criticism for Clinton is likely to come from the media, especially if its members stress the lucrative nature of her book deal.

"A lot of times, politicians ... present themselves as altruistic public servants who are not interested in money," Lerner said. "So she may receive some criticism in the press, and that can hinder one's legislative agenda."

Still others see the conflict going deeper and focusing more on partisan politics.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich faced a similar controversy in 1994, when he was offered a $4.5 million book contract from HarperCollins, a publishing company owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Under pressure from the Democrats -- especially from Reps. David Bonior of Michigan, Carrie Meek of Florida and Marcy Kaptur of Ohio -- Gingrich opted to receive payment for his book in the form of royalties only, accepting just $1 for the advance, according to his spokesman.

"From Newt's perspective, at the time, there wasn't a problem" with his book deal, Gingrich spokesman Mike Shields said, adding the practice seemed acceptable among politicians during the mid-90s. "But [the Democrats], all of a sudden, they saw an opportunity [to attack]."

That attack, Shields continued, eventually led to the passage of House rules prohibiting members from accepting advances for books written.

Spokespersons for Bonior, Meek and Kaptur did not return telephone calls to explain whether they favored the implementation of such rules in the Senate and for Clinton, as they did in the House and for Gingrich in 1994.

Even without rules prohibiting such advances in the Senate, the ethical questions remain, according to Todd Gaziano, senior fellow in legal studies for the Heritage Foundation.

"We don't want our members of Congress to be bought," he said, "and we don't want our people getting sweetheart deals that shows they might be bought. You can make it a free market analogy ... but most other employers [in the private sector] demand a certain amount of loyalty from their employees.

"Don't run for Congress" if abiding the ethics expectations are problematic, he continued.

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