Amid a Justice Department investigation into alleged sex crimes and a related House Ethics probe, beleaguered congressman Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) appears to have committed at least one much smaller but more straightforward federal violation: failure to disclose how much money he made from a book he published last September.
When The Daily Beast inquired about the omission last week, a Gaetz spokesperson said the office needed “additional documentation” from the publisher and was “in the process of receiving that information and amending the Congressman’s financial disclosure.” Sure enough, an amended financial disclosure was filed three days after The Daily Beast reached out asking about the undisclosed book income.
The Gaetz spokesperson did not answer follow-ups about the nature of the documents and why Gaetz did not have them when he filed his original disclosure several days ahead of deadline.
But the amendment itself raises its own questions. Gaetz reported that his publishing contract awarded him 60 percent royalties—a share normally reserved for online distributor sales of self-published work, and more than double the typical hardcover royalty rates. House rules require lawmakers to request permission from ethics officials to accept royalties, which can be granted if the publishing deal is under “usual and customary contractual terms.”
Gaetz’s book, Firebrand, went on presale last August and hit bookshelves and online stores in September, after last year’s financial disclosure deadline. The new amended disclosure claims the beleaguered Florida conservative earned exactly $25,000 from book sales last year, after giving 30 percent of his personal profits to his agent, Sergio Gor—a former staffer for Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who also officiated and DJ’ed at Gaetz’s surprise wedding last weekend.
If Gaetz’s $25,000 claim and publishing terms are accurate, the disclosure indicates Firebrand didn’t exactly burn up the charts. His reported profits suggest the memoir brought in a total of about $59,500 between August and December, netting his contracted publisher, Post Hill Press, a little less than $15,000.
Hardcover copies were originally listed for $27—new ones now go for less than $10—and you can still pick up an ebook for $14.99. To match his disclosure, a $27 price tag would come out to about 2,200 units sold. But even at the low end of $10 a pop, Gaetz would have sold fewer than 6,000 copies of Firebrand across several months.
Kedric Payne, general counsel and senior director of ethics at the Campaign Legal Center, told The Daily Beast that he couldn’t remember when a member failed to report income from a book, but noted that Gaetz’s immediate correction would likely spare him repercussions.
“The law is clear that book royalty income must be disclosed. Indeed, it is difficult to think of a recent example when a lawmaker did not disclose such income,” Payne said. “In practice, it is not expected that the Ethics Committee will seek any penalties against a member who files an amendment under these circumstances.”
Payne added that “more facts” were needed to figure out whether the deal warranted those sorts of repercussions.
Brett Kappel, an attorney who specializes in government compliance at Harmon Curran, echoed those points.
“Filing an incomplete financial disclosure report is a violation of both the Ethics in Government Act and the House rules,” Kappel said. “The fact that Rep. Gaetz quickly filed an amended report, however, likely means he will suffer no consequences.”
And Bryson Morgan, former investigative counsel to the Office of Congressional Ethics who now practices political compliance law at Caplin & Drysdale, pointed out that disclosure rules cover anticipated royalties as well.
“It appears Congressman Gaetz has failed to disclose his interests in the book and any income he received from the book as required by federal law,” Morgan said after reviewing Gaetz’s disclosures. “The House Committee on Ethics issued specific guidance to Members of Congress on how book deals—including agreements for royalties to be paid in the future—must be reported on the annual disclosure form, so Mr. Gaetz was on notice that disclosure was required.”
Bombardier Books—the Post Hill imprint that published the book—did not respond to The Daily Beast’s questions, neither did distributor Simon & Schuster. The House Ethics Committee and the Office of Congressional Ethics also declined to comment.
While Firebrand didn’t top bestseller lists, Gaetz’s promotional efforts got additional muscle from a number of MAGA associates, including Donald Trump Jr. and Sean Hannity. (The Gaetz campaign in 2018 spent about $11,000 on Trump Jr.’s first book.) The self-described Florida Man also scored two coveted Twitter plugs from then-President Donald Trump, including for advance orders last August.
As The Daily Beast has reported, the Trump White House blocked Gaetz’s attempts at a preemptive pardon. The embattled congressman also apparently interfered in an parallel effort by his indicted friend Joel Greenberg, who had written Trump a confession letter which accused Gaetz of paying for sex with a 17-year-old girl—the most explosive allegation connected to the ongoing investigation. This May, Greenberg entered into a plea agreement with federal prosecutors.
The investigation has cast some Firebrand passages in a new light. In the book, structured as a series of insider “dispatches” from the MAGAverse, Gaetz goes into detail about his “active social life,” including sexual encounters as a “fun-loving politician” in Trump’s Washington.
“It’s risky to date in a town where there’s potentially a thin line between love and blackmail, or at least love and bad PR,” Gaetz wrote, adding, “I knew going in how many people had been brought down by sexual missteps in this town, so I set some rules to help me err on the safe(r) side.”
“In Washington, safe sex means in part: no dating lobbyists, no dating your staff members, and I should have added no dating reporters, but I didn’t at first,” he wrote. The three-term representative also deployed his well-worn canned line, “I’m a representative, not a monk,” which he has used since at least 2013, including in an April op-ed defending himself against the sex trafficking allegations.
Gaetz also wrote about a 2019 New Year’s Eve trip to Key West with two “best friends” who have been questioned in connection with the sex trafficking investigation. The passage includes a meditation on a condom wrapper with a picture of a bee on it, captioned “cover your stinger,” which Gaetz claimed to have obtained from the Key West airport and serves as an extended metaphor for romantic despair.