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State Department defends buying Obama’s books

Cites ‘embassy-based decision’

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The State Department on Wednesday defended spending tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on books authored by President Obama, while White House spokesman Jay Carney called the book-buying an "embassy-based decision."

The comments followed a report Wednesday by The Washington Times that found the State Department had spent more than $70,000 on books by Mr. Obama.

Most of the purchases came in the months after Mr. Obama won the White House, though the embassy in Paris spent more than $8,000 for copies of "Dreams From My Father" as recently as March.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Wednesday the decision to buy the books didn't come from anyone in Washington.

"It's the embassies themselves that make the decisions what American books to buy," she said, adding the purchases are "based on the interest in the country where they are."

Ms. Nuland also noted that such purchases were "standard practice" and that embassies can stock libraries with books, give copies to other libraries and provide copies to diplomatic contacts. She said if people went through the libraries, they would find examples of literary works from administration figures in both political parties.

The Times' report was based on a review of purchasing records available on a federal spending database. Keyword searches for book titles by former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton did not reveal any records of purchases, while searches for books by Mr. Obama revealed tens of thousands of dollars spent mostly in the year after he was sworn into office.

Still, there are other records of book purchases by the State Department that do not contain a book title at all. Some of the books by Mr. Obama purchased by the State Department were used for gratuities, according to records.

The biggest single purchase was by the U.S. Embassy in Egypt, which spent $28,636 for copies of "Dreams From My Father." Weeks earlier, the embassy had spent more than $9,000 for copies of the same book.

The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, spent more than $3,800 for hardcover copies of Mr. Obama's "The Audacity of Hope," which was released a few months before Mr. Obama declared his run for the White House.

White House officials said they were not aware of the purchases.

"What I do know, because we looked into it, obviously, the White House didn't have anything to do with this," he said. "I think this is an embassy-by-embassy-based decision based on what ... makes sense to them in terms of advancing American foreign-policy interests."

Leslie Paige, a spokeswoman for Citizens Against Government Waste, a watchdog group, said the purchases were "inappropriate."

"This sounds like propaganda," she told the Times.

According to financial-disclosure forms, Mr. Obama earns royalties of 15 percent of the U.S. price for hardcover sales for "The Audacity of Hope" and 7.5 percent for trade paperback book sales.

If he earned 10 percent royalties on roughly $60,000 in purchases of his books by the State Department, excluding his childrens book, where proceeds are donated to charity, he could expect to pocket $6,000. Its a tiny slice of Mr. Obamas overall earnings. Mr. Obama's 2010 tax return showed overall income of slightly less than $1.8 million, with more than $240,000 donated to charity.

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