Skip to site content

Publisher of Senator’s Book No Stranger to Baptists

U.S. Sen. Zell Miller’s critical assessment of the Democratic Party is making waves in political circles. It’s also selling books for a newly formed publishing venture by Cecil Staton, president and CEO of the moderate Baptist publisher Smyth & Helwys.

Miller’s book, A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat, was released Nov. 2 with an initial printing of 100,000 copies and a second printing of 25,000 reportedly on the way. It ranked 23rd on last week’s New York Times best seller list and is the No. 10 title in this week’s Publishers Weekly non-fiction list.

“That was before his big media launch,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted Staton as saying last week. Identifying Staton as president of Stroud & Hall, the book’s publisher, the article went on to say the company had shipped 80,000 books and was receiving calls and orders from major distributors daily.

Sales received a boost from radio and TV appearances by Miller and a serialization of the book in the Nov. 2 and Nov. 9 issue of the Journal-Constitution. The Southern Baptist Convention news agency Baptist Press ran an article promoting the book, highlighting Miller’s change of heart from a pro-choice to pro-life stance on abortion.

A Stroud & Hall Web site says the new company is focused on publishing political, historical and biographical books, and describes Miller’s inaugural title as “an example of the works we plan to publish.” Staton did not respond to an e-mail sent to an address at Smyth & Helwys requesting information about the new venture.

David Cassady, Smyth & Helwys publisher and executive vice president, did not respond to e-mails inquiring about whether Stroud & Hall is related to Smyth & Helwys, a privately owned company that produces Sunday school curriculum and books geared toward moderate Baptists and described as a “partner” by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

In addition to his role at Smyth & Helwys, Staton was for 12 years publisher of Mercer University Press. While his recent departure from Mercer Press was already in the works, sources say Staton’s landing the book deal while still an employee there created some hard feelings with the university, which had published two previous books by Miller but didn’t learn about his newest until it was announced in a press release. Staton continues employment as a member of Mercer’s faculty, listed in a directory on the school’s Web site as associate provost and assistant professor in the College of Liberal Arts.

Randy Evans, an attorney who helped Miller negotiate the book contract, said the senator decided to go with Stroud & Hall because other publishers said they couldn’t get the book out until after the first of the year, and Miller wanted it released before Thanksgiving.

Miller has said that he never considered publishing the book with Mercer University Press, because he didn’t believe the subject matter was appropriate for a university press and he desired to work with a national publisher, according to a source who spoke to EthicsDaily.com on background.

Miller received an advance payment less than $50,000 for writing the book and had the contract approved by a Senate ethics committee. Members of the House of Representatives aren’t allowed to take book advances, but senators can provided it is “customary and usual in the industry,” Evans told the Macon Telegraph in September.

The attorney declined to disclose the precise amount of the advance in an exchange of e-mails with EthicsDaily.com but confirmed it was less than $50,000. The book is 256 pages and sells for $26.

In the book, Miller, the former two-term governor who joined the Senate in 2000, says the Democratic Party has lost its way by catering to left-wing special-interest groups and is out of step with much of the country, and particularly the South.

“Many party loyalists will not like what Senator Miller writes; yet his credentials are beyond question, for few Democrats have worked longer or stronger for the party and its candidates,” says a description of the book on the Stroud & Hall Web site.

But others say Miller’s criticism is hardly a surprise; he has voted more often with Republicans than Democrats since moving to Washington and recently announced that he would endorse President Bush in the next election.

Most of the parties involved with the book have strong GOP connections. Evans, the lawyer who helped broker the book deal, is general counsel for the Georgia Republican Party and negotiated previous book contracts for Newt Gingrich and Dennis Hastert.

Shirley & Bannister, a Washington-area firm specializing in political books, is handling public relations for the publisher. Other clients listed on the company’s Web site include the American Conservative Union, The American Spectator, the Conservative Political Action Conference, the Heritage Foundation, the National Rifle Association and the Republican National Committee.

Staton set tongues wagging among many of his longtime moderate Baptist friends last year when he ran for Congress unsuccessfully, catering to the religious right, while contributing $521,000 of his own money to his campaign. More recently, there has been speculation about his future political ambitions.

The Macon Telegraph quoted Staton in May as saying he was thinking about running for a congressional seat being vacated by Republican Mac Collins, who is seeking the Senate seat now occupied by Miller, who is retiring. “My wife and I are giving it prayerful consideration,” the paper quoted Staton as saying. “We certainly have not made a decision at this time.”

The article said speculation about a potential run for office by Staton helped energize a Republican Party convention held in May.

Staton and his wife, Catherine, have donated money to Collins’ campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Collins, who had raised more than $675,000 by mid-October, included the Statons in a list of people on his campaign Web site deserving “special thanks” for “help and support.”

Staton started Smyth & Helwys with three partners in 1990 as an alternative press to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Sunday School Board (now named LifeWay Christian Resources), which was among SBC agencies to come under control of conservatives during the 1980s. Staton has since gained control of the for-profit publishing firm, which claims more than 3,000 churches use its resources on the company Web site.

Smyth & Helwys does not disclose information about its sales and profits, or how much it pays its executives, but it isn’t Staton’s only business. His Staton Broadcasting Inc. recently bought five radio stations in Georgia for $3.35 million, according to an industry Web site.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.