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Brown Asks to Use Campaign Funds to Buy Copies of Autobiography

Sen. Scott Brown’s campaign is asking the Federal Election Commission whether it can use committee funds on an upcoming book about his life.

The Massachusetts Republican wants to use contributions to his Senate campaign to buy several thousand copies of his pending autobiography for “campaign-related activities,” including giving signed copies to large donors as gifts. 

Brown’s letter also asks the FEC whether he can use committee assets such as its website, Facebook and Twitter accounts to publish small amounts of material to market the book, which is tentatively titled “Against All Odds.” Other campaign assets Brown wants to promote the book include the mailing and e-mail lists of the campaign, which would be reimbursed at fair market value. Brown, who won a 2009 special election to replace the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D), will face voters again for a full term in 2012.

Brown’s campaign stated that he will either forgo royalties from the sales of these campaign-purchased books or donate the money to charity. This move is an attempt stay within FEC rules that ban the personal use of campaign funds by lawmakers and candidates. This move is an attempt stay within FEC rules that ban the personal use of campaign funds by lawmakers and candidates and would decrease any profits he might make from book sales.

Washington ethics watchdogs did not have any major problems with the request and were optimistic of its approval by the FEC.

“Nothing in this advisory opinion request screams to me ‘controversy,’” said Paul S. Ryan, FEC program director and associate legal council for the Campaign Legal Center. “So long as committee funds are not going into Sen. Brown’s pocket — and the proposed arrangement on royalties seems to accomplish this — the personal use ban seemingly is not violated.”

“But the book tour will amount to a fundraising tour,” Ryan said of Brown’s proposed plan to intertwine campaign fundraising events with his book tour. “I think that it would be reasonable for the FEC to require some portion of the expenses of the book tour to be paid for by the committee” so that the book publisher does not subsidize Brown’s campaign.

Brown’s request is not without precedent and could likely be approved by the FEC. In mid-December 2008, the FEC approved a similar request that allowed then-Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) to use his leadership committee to pay some costs associated with a book he co-authored about a potential terrorism threat from the Far East. 

Writing books seems to be a frequent moonlighting career for Members of Congress. According to a 2006 survey, there were 31 Senators in the 109th Congress, including then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who collectively had written at least 74 books. Among current Senators, Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) are tied with six books each. 

Writing these books can be quite lucrative. In 2008, Obama received more than $2.5 million in royalties from two semi-autobiographical best-selling books.

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