- December 22, 2000
- The New York Times
Mrs. Clinton's Book Deal
rs. Clinton's Book Deal
We are sorry to see Hillary Rodham Clinton start her Senate career by selling a memoir of her years as first lady to Simon & Schuster for a near- record advance of about $8 million. The deal may conceivably conform to the lax Senate rules on book sales, though even that is uncertain. But it would unquestionably violate the tougher, and better, House rules, and it is an affront to common sense. No lawmaker should accept a large, unearned sum from a publisher whose parent company, Viacom, is vitally interested in government policy on issues likely to come before Congress ó for example, copyright or broadcasting legislation.
Mrs. Clinton's staggering advance falls just below the $8.5 million received by Pope John Paul II in 1994. We wish as a matter of judgment that she had not sought an advance but had voluntarily limited her payments to royalties on actual book sales, as the House now requires of its members. That way there would be no worry that she had been given special treatment in an effort to curry political favor.
The Senate will judge Mrs. Clinton's deal in the context of outmoded rules that, regrettably, still permit members to accept advance payments for their books provided they fall within "usual and customary" industry patterns. Mrs. Clinton held an open auction for her book, so the $8 million advance emerged from a process that presumably represented the industry's consensus about what the book would be worth. But Mrs. Clinton has a duty to reveal the entire contents of her contract so that the public and members of the Senate Ethics Committee can judge for themselves whether its terms fulfill her pledge to comply with existing Senate rules, inadequate though they are.
As it is, Mrs. Clinton will enter the Senate as a business associate of a major company that has dealings before many regulatory agencies and interests in Congress. It would have been far better if she had avoided this entanglement. As she above all others should know, not every deal that is legally permissible is smart for a politician who wants and needs to inspire public trust.
Only a few years ago Newt Gingrich, at that time the House speaker, accepted an ethically dubious $4.5 million book deal with a publishing house owned by Rupert Murdoch, an aggressively political publisher seeking help with his problems with federal regulators. This was the issue that ultimately forced Mr. Gingrich to abandon his advance, and led the House to ban all advance payments for members' books.
That is the right approach, and it would be nice if Republican critics of Mrs. Clinton's deal now devoted real energy to persuading the Senate to adopt the House rules for the future. Both bodies need maximum protection against entangling alliances between lawmakers and government favor- seekers now that nearly all major publishing houses are owned by large corporations with a lot of business before Congress.