Speaking fees paid to councilwoman raise legal issues

Julie Lythcott-Haims

This story was originally published in the print edition of the Daily Post on Wednesday, April 12. If you want to stay on top of local news, pick up the Post in the mornings at 1,000 Mid-Peninsula locations.

By Braden Cartwright
Daily Post Staff Writer

A Palo Alto councilwoman who gives book talks and holds workshops about parenting, youth development and race will have to reduce the share of her income that comes from speaking gigs, according to the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

If not, then Councilwoman Julie Lythcott-Haims would be violating the Political Reform Act that restricts public officials from profiting off of their public service, FPPC lawyer Brian Lau said.

“Moving forward, she will only be able to receive compensation for speeches and other public talks so long as speech making is not the predominate activity of her business,” Lau wrote in a letter to Lythcott-Haims’ lawyer Gary Winuk on April 7.

Lythcott-Haims said at Monday’s (April 10) council meeting that she is considering her next steps, which could include asking the FPPC weighing in formally. The letter doesn’t call any of her votes into question, she said.

“This is my job, it is my work, it is how I support my family,” she said.

Lythcott-Haims announced the FPPC’s response from Minnesota, where she was giving presentations on her books.

Lythcott-Haims was elected to council in November, and she asked the FPPC if its rule against paid speeches applies to her, since her speeches are unrelated to city business and started well before she was elected.

Lythcott-Haims didn’t say on Monday when she reached out to the FPPC.

Lythcott-Haims has written three books since 2013, including a New York Times bestseller, and has “developed herself into a national and international literary figure,” Winuk told Lau.

Lythcott-Haims established a California corporation in 2021 called Love Over Time, LLC, which has maintained records of accounting for the past two years, Winuk said.

Over the past year, Lythcott-Haims had 37 promotional book talks and workshops, and about 85% of them were paid, Winuk said.

Lythcott-Haims also received book royalties, and she was paid to write weekly for Meta and to do a book review for the Washington Post, Winuk said. He didn’t specify how much she made.

Lythcott-Haims won’t accept any income from any business or person located in Palo Alto, and all of her paid activities are solely related to her published work, Winuk said. Lythcott-Haims declined to comment when reached by phone yesterday.

Specifically, Lau said that if Lythcott-Haims’ income from speaking engagements is more than 50% of her income in the past year, then she can’t accept any more pay for speeches. She can, however, continue to get paid for writing books and articles, he said.


  1. I actively opposed Dave Price during the election campaign and supported what I thought would be a great new candidate.

    I was mistaken. Julie is expressing a very entitled outrage about her rights.

    – Also: She is voting on issues with a logical process that seems at odds with her mighty CV.

  2. This is silly.

    There’s the letter of the law and the intent of the law. The councilwoman is not profiting from her public service – she was a nationally regarded author and speaker well before she ran for office, writing and speaking about things disconnected from the votes she takes on council. Her profile isn’t being elevated by her council gig, either – if anything, she has probably had to dial back her work so that she can give enough attention to the council job.

    Meanwhile we have council members who benefit professionally from our current housing scarcity (e.g. realtors and landlords) voting on issues like renter protections and housing development. Maybe write about that?

    In the meantime I hope the FPPC figures out a more nuanced interpretation of this statute.

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