November 2004

Michael Schaub

propaganda

The Open Secrets of America's Authors

Slate recently ran a piece asking authors of all persuasions who they planned to vote for. I say "all persuasions," but as it turns out, there aren't a lot of writers willing to go on record as voting Republican. Even John Updike, whose audience and characters both lean toward the upper-middle-class and WASPy, endorsed Kerry in no uncertain terms. [ed. note -- This piece was written before the election.]

No surprise there. President Bush's wife Laura might be the driving force behind the annual Texas Book Festival (which has been, recently, anemic at best), but Bush himself appointed John Ashcroft, a sin that most authors are unwilling to forgive. Ashcroft's Justice Department has shown a remarkable willingness to abridge First Amendment rights, pissing off writers and librarians alike. (You really, really don't want to piss off librarians.) Add in Bush's tendency to slash the budget for programs like Reading Is Fundamental, and at this point, there are probably more Republican abortionists than Republican literary writers.

But there are some. They just don't make themselves known. Perhaps they're afraid of getting beaten up at the next MLA convention or BookExpo America. Republican writers apparently write checks more frequently than pro-GOP editorials. And there is a way to find out who's giving money to whom, thanks to the Center for Responsive Politics, which runs a website called Opensecrets.org. Here you can find records of any contribution over $200 made to a political candidate, party, or political action committee. Several writers showed up on the website, with contributions ranging from $200 to several thousand dollars.

Before I reveal any of these open secrets, though, a few caveats. The information that follows only covers (for the most part) the last three election cycles: 2000, 2002 and 2004. The data might not reflect contributions made in the last month or so. And there's always the possiblity of mistakes, given the huge amount of data the website holds. (The Opensecrets.org website has been down for several hours as I write this, and probably will continue to be hammered by heavy traffic until the election is over. Sometime next year.)

I'm not suggesting anyone boycott or harass any of these writers just because you disagree with their politics. I'm a liberal Democrat, but it actually kind of heartens me that there are actual Republican writers out there. If it helps dispel the stereotype of writers as fey, out-of-touch ivory tower intellectuals, then I'm all for it. (Note that I am, however, encouraging the harassment of pro-Bush musicians like Kid Rock, Jessica Simpson and Ted Nugent. This is because I hate them.) There are few surprises here, but then again, there are few surprises in politics and literature these days, so I guess it all works out.

In honor of Halloween, which just passed, let's look at horror writers first. The undisputed king of the genre, Stephen King, is evidently a hugely committed Democrat. In September of 2004, King donated $10,000 each to the state Democratic parties of Iowa, Maine and West Virginia -- all swing states that could influence the November election. King lists his residence as Bangor, Maine, and Iowa is one of the most hotly contested states this election. I'm not sure what the connection to West Virginia is; despite the fact that it's a swing state, it's leaned Bush pretty consistently. (Prove me wrong, West Virginia Democrats. Prove me wrong.) King gave $2,000 to Howard Dean in late 2003, and $2,000 to John Kerry this summer. King also donated $1,000 to Rep. Joseph Hoeffel, who's running for Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter's seat. In 2002, King gave $1,000 to Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone's reelection bid, and $1,000 to the unsuccessful Senate campaigns of Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire) and Chellie Pingree (Maine).

Also representing for the Democrats among horror writers is Anne Rice, the New Orleans-based heroine to thousands of Goth kids across America. (And they're a much-sought after demographic.) Rice has given several hefty contributions to the national Democratic party, most recently $25,000 to the Democratic National Committee Services Corporation in April 2004. In years past, Rice has also donated to Howard Dean and John Kerry, as well as Louisiana Rep. William J. Jefferson and Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu (both Democrats). Amusingly, on a 1993 contribution to the DNC, Rice's profession is listed as "WRITER VAMPIRE NOVELS." I'm guessing that's a first for the FEC. Horror novelist Peter Straub also shows contributions to Democrats, most recently to New Hampshire state Sen. Burt Cohen. Cohen had hoped to run for U.S. Senate this year against Republican Judd Gregg, but dropped out for reasons that remain unclear. (The Democrats ended up nominating 94-year-old Doris "Granny D" Haddock instead.) Jaws author Peter Benchley has contributed thousands to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and made a contribution in 2000 to the liberal-leaning League of Conservation Voters.

That's not to say all horror authors are liberals. One of the more committed Republican writers is -- wait for it -- Dean Koontz, the illiterate man's Stephen King. Koontz has given thousands to the Republican National Committee, and sent a $1,000 check to George W. Bush in 2000. Also pulling the lever for the GOP (one supposes) is William Peter Blatty, who donated $1,000 to Pennsylvania Congress hopeful Scott Paterno, currently on a quixotic quest to unseat incumbent Rep. Tim Holden. Unfortunately for the guy who wrote The Exorcist, there is just not a world in which Paterno can win this race.

Things start to look up for the Republicans when authors of technothrillers are taken into account. The master of the genre, Tom Clancy, is a huge Republican donor. (He's also been mentioned as a possible Republican candidate for statewide office in Maryland, but it's doubtful he could win in the mostly Democratic state.) Clancy has posted thousands of dollars to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Rhode Island congressional candidate Dave Rogers, who's running a losing race against incumbent Rep. Patrick Kennedy. (In 1994, Clancy contributed another $1,000 to the campaign of Dr. Kevin Vigilante, who also ran unsuccessfully against Kennedy.) Clancy has a history of contributing to losing campaigns, though -- he's given to unsuccessful Senate candidates Rick Lazio and Herman Cain. Technothriller author Stephen Coonts donated $2,000 to Bush this year. Perhaps his luck will be better than Clancy's.

Military thriller writer Dale Brown also has given cash to Republicans, including over $2,000 over the years to George W. Bush. (Although he did donate to Bush's primary opponent Dan Quayle in 1999, making him one of approximately 9 people to contribute to that hilariously unsucessful campaign.) He's also given money to Nevada Sen. John Ensign. Brown was convicted of tax fraud earlier this year and fined $25,000. I wonder if Ensign or Bush plan to return any of his contributions. Anyone?

Unsurprisingly, authors whose main audience is the Christian right also shell out big bucks for the GOP. Left Behind millionaire Tim LaHaye has given to several conservative Christian wingnuts, including Bill Federer, Jim Baize and Woody Jenkins. Baize and Jenkins lost their most recent elections; Federer will definitely lose his bid to take over Dick Gephardt's Missouri Congress seat. Christian author Max Lucado donated to the campaigns of Texas Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Rep. Henry Bonilla, and President Bush. Lucado is obviously better at picking winners than LaHaye. San Antonio pastor and author John Hagee, a crazy right-wing homophobe if ever there was one, also donated $250 to Cornyn in 2002.

The same holds true for left-wing writers, who donate -- brace yourself -- to Democrats. Al Franken has donated thousands to John Kerry, Walter Mondale, and Hillary Clinton, and he made a $203 contribution (?) to MoveOn.org. Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler donated $5,000 last year, split evenly among Senators Barbara Boxer, Patty Murray, Blanche Lincoln, and Barbara Mikulski, none of whom have serious Republican challengers. Gloria Steinem donated $750 in 2000 to Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign.

If thriller writers lean toward Bush, romance writers decisively do not. Danielle Steel has donated several hundred dollars over the past few cycles to California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who could become America's first female Speaker of the House this year or in 2006. Judith Krantz and Sidney Sheldon have contributed thousands upon thousands of dollars to various Democrats. Massachusetts-based romance writer Barbara Delinsky donated $1,000 to Rep. Bill Delahunt, a Democrat, in 1999.

Mystery writers are a mixed bag. John Grisham is a pretty reliable Democrat -- he donated $25,000 to the DNC this year, and has supported Bill Bradley in the past. Sara Paretsky is a big donor to Barack Obama's campaign for the Senate from Illinois, and Ayelet Waldman has made contributions to MoveOn.org, EMILY's List, Howard Dean and John Kerry. Richard North Patterson has given to the campaigns of Democrats Tom Daschle, Ron Kirk and Blanche Lincoln, and Stuart Woods has supported Democrat Tom Udall. Elmore Leonard has contributed to Sen. Carl Levin's campaign. Levin, from Michigan, is one of the most powerful Democrats in the Senate.

On the other hand, author Mary Higgins Clark, it turns out, is a huge Republican fan. She's donated $10,000 to that Republican National Committee, and $5,000 to the New Jersey Republican Party. Medical thriller author Robin Cook has also given thousands to the RNC, and Nelson DeMille donated to the losing campaigns of Republicans Rick Lazio for Senate and Greg Becker for Congress.

Two mystery writers have donated to candidates of both parties. Patricia Cornwell donated to Republicans George Allen and Orrin Hatch and Democrat Chuck Robb. Scott Turow gave to both Hatch and Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy.

I'm not sure what this says about the mental health of Republicans, but the GOP seems to have a slight edge among self-help authors. Steven Covey, who built an empire around his dumbass theories of highly effective people, has given thousands to Bush and the RNC. Dave Pelzer, about whom the less said, the better, donated $500 earlier this year to Rep. Mary Bono, a California Republican widely considered to be one of the least intelligent members of the House.

It's hard to get a read on pop writers. Jean Auel, author of the Clan of the Cave Bear books, has contributed to Democrats Ron Wyden and Bob Kerrey. The Prince of Tides author Pat Conroy donated $2,000 earlier this year to Democrat Inez Tenenbaum, currently running for Senate in South Carolina against right-winger Jim DeMint. Nicholas Sparks, who writes treacly romance novels that get made into movies with alarming frequency, has contributed thousands to the campaign of Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina.

It seems that hardcore literary authors are reliably liberal. Louise Erdrich, the celebrated author of the brilliant Love Medicine, donated $250 a few years ago to the campaign of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone. Isabel Allende is listed as a donor to the DNC and Hillary Clinton, and Maya Angelou donated to North Carolina Senate candidate Erskine Bowles, a Democrat. Chuck Palahniuk lists a $1,000 donation to Bill Bradbury, the Democratic secretary of state of Oregon. David Sedaris threw $1,000 at John Kerry, and poet W.S. Merwin kicked in $250 to the Kerry campaign. Jonathan Safran Foer contributed $500 to Downtown for Democracy, and Michael Chabon gave $2,000 each to Howard Dean and John Kerry, plus $500 to Barack Obama.

This information is, of course, incomplete. Searching for every writer in America actually does get boring after awhile. But Opensecrets.org remains one of the most fun ways to avoid work on the Internet, while learning disturbing facts about Dean Koontz and Mary Higgins Clark. Knowing who authors contribute to almost certainly won't change minds when it comes to the merits of their work, but at least you'll know who to thank (or blame) after the results come in on Tuesday.

(Statement of disclosure: Michael Schaub has never donated more than $200 to any candidate, but he did give $25 to John Kerry, and once bought a beer for a friend who was running for Brazos County (Texas) Commissioner in 1998. His friend lost, but the beer was frosty.)