A Buffalo News headline (4/18/17) asked a pointed question about New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo: “How Did Cuomo Make $783,000 on Memoir That Sold 3,200 Copies?”
The accompanying article did not delve particularly deep into the mystery, beyond noting that the royalty amounts to $245 per copy for a book that retails on Amazon for $13.05, and that it more than doubled Cuomo’s income for 2016, when his $216,000 in royalties topped the $168,000 he got as his gubernatorial salary. “This payment was contractual and per the agreement with the publisher,” a Cuomo spokesperson told the News.
The identity of that publisher—HarperCollins, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp—goes a long way to solving the mystery: Murdoch has long made a practice of funneling large payments to influential politicians via HarperCollins book contracts, in what amounts to a system of legalized bribery.
More than 20 years ago, Mother Jones (5–6/95) was already remarking on HarperCollins’ reputation as “publisher to the powerful,” noting the $5.4 million it gave British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for her “almost unreadable memoirs,” the $1 million it gave Deng Xiaoping’s daughter for what the New Yorker (2/13/95) described as “a turgid, barely literate piece of propaganda,” and the $4.5 million it offered US House Speaker Newt Gingrich for his turgid To Renew America. (After critics pointed out that the House was considering telecommunications legislation that would impact Murdoch very directly, Gingrich turned down an advance in favor of straight royalties, a choice that the Washington Post—11/4/95—estimated reduced the speaker’s payday by about two-thirds.)
Other politicians who have benefited from Murdoch’s editorial generosity include Ted Cruz, who reportedly received an advance in the neighborhood of $1.5 million (New Republic, 10/20/15), Sarah Palin ($1.25 million—Guardian, 10/27/09), George W. Bush (a comparatively modest $130,000—New York Times, 4/18/00), and UK prime ministers John Major (£400,000—Guardian, 11/2/99) and David Cameron (£800,000—Daily Mail, 10/25/16).
What do you get for that kind of money? Well, in the case of Cuomo, Matthew Cunningham-Cook and David Sirota (International Business Times, 2/25/15) pointed out that during his tenure as governor, Cuomo has repeatedly backed policies that benefited Murdoch’s News Corp:
One of the initiatives was a bill that created a special sales tax break for online-only publications that charge for subscriptions. News Corporation, which was one of the two companies that lobbied for the bill, was at the time investing tens of millions of dollars in such a publication. Another initiative was a special tax exemption that Cuomo’s administration created for electronic books, which are sold by, among others, HarperCollins. State records list News Corporation as lobbying Cuomo’s tax department in the months before the exemption was announced. And, while News Corporation lobbied the governor’s office in 2012, Cuomo championed an expansion of controversial film and television tax credits that have benefited News Corporation’s films, and that News Corporation had lobbied for in the past.
Cuomo has rejected the idea that statewide officials like himself should be subject to caps on outside income, arguing that it’s unnecessary (Daily News, 1/19/15): “I’m not allowed to represent anyone or any business matter.”
And if you believe that, I’ve got a book I’d like to sell you for three-quarters of a million dollars.
Research assistance: Joshua Cho