AUSTIN, Texas — On Monday, Wayne Hamilton, the campaign manager for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s campaign for Governor, sent a formal request to the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC) for an advisory opinion regarding the book tour and promotional activities of Wendy Davis, the Texas State Senator and Abbott’s Democratic opponent.
Davis, trailing Abbott in the polls, had announced a statewide book tour to launch this month to promote her memoirs, Forgetting to Be Afraid. The publisher of Davis’ book, Blue Rider Press, is a corporation and corporate donations are not allowed under Texas campaign finance laws, thereby generating the heart of the controversy raised in Hamilton’s letter to the TEC.
Davis received a six-figure advance on royalties for the book and will collect any proceeds from the sale of the book personally, as opposed to donating the money to a charitable organization as Governor Rick Perry did with his 2010 book, Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington.
As Hamilton’s letter notes, Blue Rider Press is paying for “book signings and other promotional events where [Davis] will appear to promote the book,” and advertising, including “social media, Internet, newspaper and broadcast advertising.” The issue, writes Hamilton, is that “[t]he goal of this advertising [for the book] is nearly identical to the goal of advertising done by the candidate’s campaign; that is, to raise the candidate’s name identification, increase the public’s opinion of the candidate, and otherwise promote the candidate to the public.”
The timing of the book tour, less than two months before the November general election, and presumed coordination between the publisher and the campaign, are also reasons for concern, according to Hamilton. “[T]he candidate will be using political funds on voter contact at the same time the publisher is using corporate funds to promote the book,” Hamilton wrote. “Some of the candidate’s campaign events will be coordinated with the publisher…any given trip may have two purposes: promoting the book and promoting the candidate’s campaign.”
Hamilton requests that the TEC clarify four questions: 1) whether the book publisher’s promotional advertising activities constitute in-kind contributions to Davis’ campaign, 2) if the publisher can pay for travel to cities if there will also be campaign events, 3) vice-versa, if the campaign can pay for travel to cities where there will be book events, and 4) how the royalty payments should be reported on Davis’ personal financial statement.
The Austin-American Statesman reported that Davis’ publisher, Blue Rider Press, had no comment, and her spokesman, Zac Patkanas, dismissed the entire controversy as a “frivolous stunt” by the Abbott campaign, but a number of political commentators were not convinced that Davis had no reason to worry.
“Certainly, anything to do with Wendy Davis is inherently political,” Republican media strategist Rick Wilson told Breitbart Texas. “She wouldn’t even have a book if she hadn’t become the political darling of the Left, in their campaign efforts to turn Texas blue.”
A report from the Houston Chronicle last week noted other political experts who viewed the book tour as “nothing if not political”:
“The book signings may not be political, but when you’re running in a statewide race like she is, it’s political,” said Jerry Polinard, a political scientist at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg. “All the people at those events know she’s running, and they’re not there because she’s just an author.”
Dianna Wray, blogging at the Houston Press, remarked that the book “has made Davis’ campaign front-page news, and given her some of the best coverage she’s had since the filibuster that rocketed her to political stardom last year,” and was incredulous about any claims that the book was not politically motivated:
“Of course, if we’re all being honest, the campaign memoir has been another method of, you know, campaigning for time immemorial. Any politician with ambitions of higher office writes some kind of a book and then uses it for the good of his or her campaign. These books are written to be campaign materials. They are meant to be read to persuade the reader to see the politician in question in a particular light.”
Finally, KUT, the National Public Radio affiliate operated from the University of Texas at Austin, interviewed UT law professor Ross Fischer on this story. Fischer, who previously served five years on the TEC, told KUT that the Abbott campaign’s questions about Davis’ book tour were valid, and that the book tour being scheduled so close to the election was unprecedented. “If you rely on ethics advisory opinion, it provides a person with defense to criminal prosecution and a defense to civil penalties administered by the Texas Ethics Commission,” he said, pointing out that the “prudent thing” would have been for Davis to ask these questions months ago, before the book tour began.
Breitbart Texas reached out to the Davis campaign for comment, but did not receive a response by the time of this article’s publication.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter at @rumpfshaker.