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October 08, 2014

CREW Files Ethics Complaint Against Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)

Rep. Paul RyanWashington, D.C.—Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint against Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) with the Office of Congressional Ethics for accepting special benefits from Amazon in violation of the House ethics rules.

Read CREW's complaint against Rep. Ryan.

CREW’s complaint is based on a story in the New York Times, reporting that Rep. Ryan’s recent book, “The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea,” published by Hachette, was afforded special treatment by Amazon.

CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan stated, “Rep. Ryan’s way forward appears to be accepting improper favors from the nation’s largest bookseller. While he promotes the old canard that the poor must pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, he’s happy to have Amazon tug up his.”

Amazon has been battling with Hachette since last spring, discouraging customers from purchasing the publisher’s books and going so far as to stop selling certain Hachette books altogether, including J.K. Rowling’s most recent detective novel. Amazon is selling other Hachette titles at non-competitive prices, and has slowed delivery of some Hachette titles, advising potential purchasers that a book “usually ships in one to three weeks.” For example, when a biography of the conservative Koch brothers, “Sons of Wichita,” by Mother Jones writer Daniel Schulman came out, Amazon at first discounted the title by just 10 percent, then stopped discounting it at all and delayed shipping for many weeks.

Rep. Ryan’s book came out on August 19, 2014. As with other Hachette titles, Amazon had not made it available for pre-order, which typically hurts sales. Initially, it was difficult to find on Amazon’s site and was not discounted. The next day, Rep. Ryan appeared on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” criticizing Amazon. In short order – and in marked contrast with its treatment of other Hachette authors – Amazon suddenly made Rep. Ryan’s book easily discoverable, discounted it by 25 percent, and shipped it immediately. Both Amazon and Rep. Ryan have declined to discuss the special treatment the congressman and former vice-presidential nominee has received.

House ethics rules prohibit lawmakers from accepting gifts given as a result of their congressional employment. “Gift” includes favors, discounts and anything of monetary value. Amazon employs lobbyists and, if the company arranged more favorable treatment of Rep. Ryan’s book because of his position as a member of Congress, the congressman accepted a gift in violation of House rules.

Sloan continued, “Amazon won’t sell J.K. Rowling’s latest fiction, but is happy to promote Paul Ryan’s tome on conservatism? Obviously, something other than potential sales is driving this decision. The Office of Congressional Ethics should immediately investigate.”

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