How to make money as a politician? Write a book
It’s not up there with Hillary Clinton’s $8M deal, but Utah’s Chris Stewart takes in a tidy sum from his book.
Published: June 20, 2014 02:14PM
Updated: June 23, 2014 11:13AM
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File -- Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, second from right, has hired the national political director of the tea party umbrella group FreedomWorks to head up part of the Utah Republican's re-election campaign for 2016. Russ Walker will serve as national political director for Lee's campaign. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Washington • Rep. Chris Stewart made $285,000 last year in book royalties, a good chunk of it for penning Elizabeth Smart’s harrowing story of her kidnapping, rape and eventual rescue.

Sen. Mike Lee made $7,500 from his book on why Chief Justice John Roberts was wrong to back Obamacare.

And Sen. Orrin Hatch made nearly $5,000 in royalties, mostly for songs he’s written.

Members of Congress are limited in outside income they can make from working — aside from investment money that keeps many of them well-off — but there’s one way to bulk up their take-home pay: writing.

And, besides the payout that comes with writing books, members also get a chance to mold history or speak to their supporters through books about their lives or expounding on the political gamesmanship of Washington. It’s a good deal for the members who have a built-in constituency ready to buy the latest tome, and a good way to spread their message.

Hillary Clinton took home a reported $8 million for her recently released book, “Hard Choices,” one of the many volumes from the potential presidential candidate. Then-Sen. Barack Obama got a nearly $2 million advance for his 2005 book, “The Audacity of Hope.” Some 33 sitting senators have books — Hatch has written four himself and Lee two — and House members have plenty of titles, too.

There are many reasons for a politician to publish.

Self promotion • “Obviously, there’s what you could describe as the shameless, self-promotion motivation,” says Steven Billet, director of the master’s program for legislative affairs at George Washington University. “If they’re thinking about higher office — obviously many of them are — many of them use these works, especially biographical works, can be used to buff up their history and make themselves more prominent and perhaps more worthy of higher office or perhaps just remaining in office. More charitably, lots of members of Congress have ideas” they want to share.

In Stewart’s case, he was an author before he was elected to represent the 2nd Congressional District. His “Seven Miracles That Saved America” and “The Miracle of Freedom: Seven Tipping Points That Saved the World” hit The New York Times best-seller list, and he’s also written dozens of military-themed novels.

But writing the Smart story was the toughest challenge he’s faced, the congressman says, because of the subject matter: a 14-year-old girl kidnapped from her Salt Lake City home, raped daily, and starved nearly to death. She was rescued nine months later.

“It was such a dark experience,” Stewart says, “and yet we wanted to tell an inspiring book, and the whole point is to show people that Elizabeth is a remarkable person who had a terrible experience but has been able to overcome it.”

Stewart made $92,000 from St. Martin’s Press, publisher of the Smart book, according to a financial disclosure filed with the House. Stewart says most of that was for the Smart book, which he co-wrote with the now 26-year-old. He also made nearly $102,000 from Deseret Book and another $92,000 from Mercury Ink, which featured a series of e-books by Stewart.

The freshman congressman says 90 percent of the Smart book was written before he took office, though he says he may still look to write other books while he’s serving.

He knows he’s not a popular enough figure yet to write about his own history, but he has some causes that may be worth a novel.

“You can teach things and advocate for things through fiction,” Stewart says, “and you can be effective in sharing a message through fiction.”

57 pages • Lee ventured into book writing as soon as he entered Congress in 2011.

“The Freedom Agenda: Why a Balanced Budget Is Necessary to Restore Constitutional Government,” earned the first-term senator a $25,000 advance from Eagle Publishing.

That tome was 120 pages of Lee’s arguments, followed by the text of the Constitution, Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation.

His second book, for which he received $7,500 in royalties, according to his financial disclosure, was titled “Why John Roberts Was Wrong About Healthcare: A Conservative Critique of The Supreme Court’s Obamacare Ruling,” and spanned 57 pages. In it, Lee, a former high court clerk, argues why the chief justice was mistaken in backing the individual mandate element of the Affordable Care Act.

Hatch, now in his seventh term, first published a book in 1983 expanding on what he said were the myths and realities of the Equal Rights Amendment. In 2002, he wrote “Square Peg: Confessions of a Citizen Senator,” and the Utah Republican, who is Mormon, has written two books about Christianity.

His 2012 book, “An American, a Mormon and a Christian: What I Believe,” earned the senator $1,500 last year in royalties. But Hatch also made $3,500 for helping to write songs.

Billet, the George Washington University professor who is also an author, says writing books isn’t the quickest way to get rich but added that it’s impressive how members of Congress take the time to write books — assuming they’re not ghost-written — while dealing with grueling schedules.

“It’s hard to carve out that kind of time,” Billet says.

Given the long list of members who do, though, suggests politicians feel like it’s worth it.

tburr@sltrib.com