- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Washington watchdog group filed an ethics complaint Wednesday against Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan accusing the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee of using his position to bully online retail giant Amazon to promote sales of his new book.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate after several news outlets reported that Amazon had increased its marketing efforts and dropped the price of Mr. Ryan’s book “The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea,” published by Hachette Book Group.

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,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan.

CREW contends that the Wisconsin Republican, who chairs the House Budget Committee, tried to strong-arm Amazon in August when the congressman spoke out against the company in an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box” program, accusing the retailer of “making kind of a power play” in trying to punish Hachette over a bitter pricing dispute.

Mr. Ryan refused to say whether thought Amazon was a monopoly, but said speaking as a citizen and not a congressman, he felt something should be done to regulate the site.

Soon after the interview, Amazon began offering Mr. Ryan’s book at a 25 percent discount and making it available for instant delivery, a treatment rarely afforded to other Hachette published authors.

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Robert Swift, a spokesman for Mr. Ryan, said the congressman didn’t violate ethics strictures.

“All activities related to the book were done in compliance with House rules,” the spokesman said.

Amazon and Hachette have been in a dispute over the terms for pricing and selling e-books. Since last spring, the retailer has been discouraging customers from buying the publisher’s books, making titles harder to locate on the website, slowing down shipping times and refusing to offer discount deals on Hachette titles.

Amazon did not offer Mr. Ryan’s book for pre-sale, and when the book was released on Aug. 19 it was difficult to locate on the retail site.

Mr. Ryan’s CNBC interview came a day later.

According to CREW, Amazon’s discount for Mr. Ryan’s book constitutes a “gift” given as a result of his status as a member of the House.

Ethics experts said the Office of Congressional Ethics has grounds to investigate the matter.

“The question is whether Paul Ryan tried to influence Amazon into giving him a gift through public pressure,” said Craig Holman, a public affairs lobbyist with Public Citizen. “The second question would be whether Paul Ryan has knowingly accepted a gift, given Amazon’s patterns of not providing a special benefit to the publisher.”

The Office of Congressional Ethics is prohibited from making a referral to the ethics committee within 60 days of an election, but it can launch a confidential investigation.

Mr. Holman said CREW should have also filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission against Amazon, to determine if there was a campaign finance violation and if Amazon acted without consulting Mr. Ryan.

A spokeswoman for Amazon declined to comment, but said that Amazon is offering all Hachette published books on its website.

Paul Samuelson, a spokesman for Twelve, the Hachette group that published Mr. Ryan’s book, said that all activities related to the book have been in compliance with House rules.

Watchdog groups have raised ethics concerns over books authored by politicians in the past, but usually those complaints dealt with book royalties paid to the author by the publisher, according to Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center.

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