March 1, 2016

World’s least fun book club rocked by scandal


Jeb Hensarling (via YouTube)

Jeb Hensarling (via YouTube)

Yesterday, Bloomberg’s Robert Schmidt brought word of a book club so ridiculous, so corrupt, and—worst of all—so deeply unfun that it makes your local high school’s chapter of the Friends of John Galt seem like a party. Also, there’s a $2,000 suggested donation.

The book club in question is run by Texas congressman Jeb Hensarling, the Republican chairman of the Financial Services Committee. It’s officially known as the First Tuesday Luncheon, as it typically meets on the first Tuesday of months when Congress is in session.

So far, so bland. But despite the political pedigree, this is not an almost-monthly gathering of wonks studying the Congressional Record during their free time. It is, rather,

a little-known fundraising vehicle where lobbyists for Wall Street banks, insurance companies and accounting firms gather monthly to discuss literature with a Republican panel member. The designated lawmaker picks the book and pulls in the day’s haul, which attendees estimate is often in the $60,000 to $80,000 range.

Fortunately for the lobbyists, according to club rules, you don’t even have to read the book: per Schmidt, members don’t read the selection ahead of time, “so often the only person who has cracked the book is the lawmaker hosting.”

Which is a good thing, because past books include Atlas Shrugged (the Friends of John Galt are finally cracking that one open next month), a Christian self-help book called The Man in the Mirror, and American Enterprise Institute head Arthur Brooks’s The Conservative Heart, which, according to its description, “boldly challenges the liberal monopoly on ‘fairness’ and ‘compassion.’” The only thing worse than a corrupt book club is a corrupt, boring book club.

This is all to say that like many book clubs, the First Tuesday Luncheon isn’t really about the books; it’s more about the company. But unlike most book clubs, in which the controversy usually centers on whether Middlesex is too depressing (yes), or whether it’s fair that we always have to meet at Marcia’s house, even though she lives all the way out in the suburbs (no), Hensarling’s club has run into a more high-level problem.

Specifically, the problem of “[front-loading] this year’s events with two lawmakers whose involvement in scandals have made corporate contributors shy away.” Those two lawmakers are New Hampshire representative Frank Guinta, who got in trouble last year for lying about $355,000 in illegal campaign contributions from his parents, and New Jersey representative Scott Garrett, a fiercely pro-Wall Street and fiercely anti-gay congressman who was the subject of a recent must-read Bloomberg profile by Joshua Green.

Some First Tuesday Luncheon-attending lobbyists are naturally unhappy about having to donate money to two scandal-plagued politicians, but according to Schmidt, they’re better off keeping their feelings to themselves:

Adding to the kerfuffle, lobbyists who skip Garrett and Guinta could face ejection from the club, said the people who asked not to be named because they don’t want to get into a public spat with Hensarling. An unwritten rule says donors can only miss one meeting each year, and some lobbyists said they are planning to seek clarification on the issue from Hensarling’s fundraising consultant, Julie Hooks Dwyer.

In other words, the First Tuesday Luncheon is not only the world’s most expensive book club and one of its most inane—it’s also punitive. Better stick with the Melville House book club, which is free and fun and never, ever scandal-plagued.



Mark Krotov was a senior editor at Melville House.