The campaign committee Friends for Chris Stewart is aptly named, given that its chief purpose is keeping the Utah congressman in office. But in a pinch, it could also be called Readers of Chris Stewart.
The Republican representative for the 2nd Congressional District is not just a politician but also a prolific author whose name is on military-techno thrillers (including one in which a weaponized virus kills everyone aboard Air Force One), historical treatises and other books that have made The New York Times best-seller list.
His books have sold particularly well to one receptive buyer: Stewart’s own campaign.
In fact, from July through September, the committee spent $3,956 on Stewart’s books. Since its creation in 2011, the campaign has made more than $32,000 in purchases from his publisher, Deseret Book, according to Federal Election Commission filings. About $1,200 of that was for office and fundraising supplies, but the bulk of the expenditures were for books, the filings show.
Lance Stewart, the congressman’s son and campaign manager, said the re-election effort gives away the books to delegates and constituents so they can better understand Stewart’s view of the nation.
Rep. Stewart was not available for a phone interview Friday but provided prepared comments.
“The books we gave to convention delegates had to do with American history and American exceptionalism. It was an extraordinarily effective way to create an immediate bond with them over shared vision, priorities, and values, and to illustrate to them how I feel about our country and what is important in our politics,” he said in the statement.
The campaign distributed somewhere between 400 and 450 books during this election, the congressman estimated.
Most of the books are from Stewart’s “Seven Miracles” series, which describes how specific events and people have altered the course of history. For instance, “Seven Miracles That Saved America” posits that “Abraham Lincoln’s desperate prayer” before the Battle of Gettysburg and “the preservation of Ronald Reagan’s life from an assassin’s bullet” are two moments when God stepped in to save America, according to the publisher.
Stewart co-wrote “Seven Miracles” and “Seven Tipping Points That Saved the World” with his brother Ted Stewart, a senior U.S. district judge in Utah.
The question of whether candidates are allowed to spend campaign funds on their own books has come before the FEC on more than one occasion, an agency spokesman said.
"There are a number of advisory opinions that the commission has issued over the years connected to this, and it’s all on a case-by-case basis,” spokesman Christian Hilland said.
Lance Stewart pointed to a 2014 opinion in which U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s committee received the all-clear to buy copies of the Republican congressman’s book “The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea.” In that case, too, Ryan’s campaign was interested in distributing the books to supporters.
Ryan’s camp planned to buy the copies from the publisher at the standard discounted bulk rate and promised not to go overboard with the purchases, only ordering as many books as needed for the campaign.
The FEC opined that the purchases were permissible in part because all royalties would be donated to charity rather than filling Ryan’s pocket. Therefore, the expenditures didn’t count as an illicit “personal use” of campaign funds, according to the opinion.
Lance Stewart says his father doesn’t receive royalties for the books his campaign buys.
“We have confirmed that the publisher has a standard agreement with all authors that they don’t pay royalties on any author purchases because they receive the wholesale price,” he wrote in an email.
Democrat Shireen Ghorbani, Stewart’s rival in the 2nd District race, said the congressman’s financial supporters probably wouldn’t mind his spending on giveaway books.
“This seems like an odd use of campaign funds, though I doubt the PACs that fund him care how he spends his money,” Ghorbani said in a prepared statement. “I care that he’s voted over 50 times to limit access to health care. I know Utahns care about that, too, because my campaign spends its resources reaching out and talking to them directly.”
Stewart said his stance on the Affordable Care Act has won him support within his district.
“One of the primary reasons I’ve consistently won re-election by such high margins is because of my votes against Obamacare, which is one of the most destructive and unpopular laws in the 2nd District,” he said.
In 2016, Stewart won a third term over a Democratic rival by roughly 28 percentage points. A recent poll showed he had a 23-point lead over Ghorbani.