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So you're a senator now, Mr. Brown, and you've landed a book contract. Congratulations! Would you have a moment for the Senate Ethics Committee?

By Stephen Lowman

One of Republican Scott Brown’s spoils in grabbing the Massachusetts Senate seat from the Democrats in January was a fat contract to write his story for HarperCollins. But long before his memoirs are published (the book’s scheduled for early 2011), Brown will have to satisfy the demands of the Senate Ethics Committee.

The committee routinely runs its collective eyes over any book deal inked by a sitting senator. It wants to ensure that no special benefits were accorded the writer because of his, or her, status as a member of Congress.

The terms of the contract should be within the norms of any standard book deal, especially when it comes to royalties and advances. The financial details of Brown’s contract have not been disclosed, but it is likely he is receiving an advance payment. The Senate allows advances as long as they are “usual and customary.” Any travel, promotional expenses and gifts also are examined.

Interestingly, the agreement has to be with an established publisher. For instance, if Larry the Lobbyist Publishing is formed a few days before Sen. Acme signs a multi-million dollar agreement with the company, red flags are sure to be raised.

Among the senators who have received book advances: Ted Kennedy, Trent Lott, Arlen Specter, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Byron Dorgan, Jim DeMint, Bill Bradley and Patrick Moynihan, according to financial records and news reports.

None of their sums was near what Hillary Clinton got for “Living History.” Her $8 million advance from Simon & Schuster raised the ire of her political opponents and the eyebrows of everyone else. (It was often noted at the time that Pope John Paul II received only a bit more — $ 8.5 million — for his book in 1994.)

A key questions with a large advance is whether it creates a conflict of interest for a senators. Large media conglomerates that have powerful lobbying presences on the Hill usually own the publishers. For example, Simon & Schuster is owned by CBS Corp. and HarperCollins by News Corp.

In 1994, Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich published “To Renew America.” Democrats scoffed at the $4.5 million advance he received from HarperCollins, accusing him of profiting from his position and political connections. The issue quieted when Gingrich said he would take only a $1 million advance, as well as royalties on each book sold. (According to a 1995 financial disclosure form, those royalties totaled $1.2 million for the year.)

A year after the brouhaha, the House voted to ban its members from receiving advances. That means when Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D—Calif.) published her memoirs two years ago she only received royalties on book sales.

In the late 1980s Gingrich accused Speaker of the House Jim Wright of ethical failings in for the way he promoted his book, “Reflections of a Public Man.” In order to bypass House rules on outside income limits, the Texas Democrat encouraged groups before which he appeared to make bulk purchases of his book in lieu of an honorarium. The Fertilizer Institute bought $2,000 worth of books. Wright received $1,100 in royalties from the Ocean Spray Growers of Massachusetts. Scandal dogged the speaker and he eventually resigned in 1989.

By Steven E. Levingston  |  March 22, 2010; 7:32 AM ET
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