- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2014

President Obama took a big hit financially last year because of plummeting book sales that cut into his royalties, but he still has his State Department as a customer.

Despite criticism in 2011 over the practice, officials at the U.S. Embassy in Paris recently spent $15,000 on copies of two of Mr. Obama’s book titles, according to the government’s online procurement database.

A State Department spokesman, Peter Velasco, said Wednesday that embassies make decisions on what books to buy based on the interests of the host countries.

“Broadly speaking, the Department of State has historically purchased books for the purpose of engaging with key foreign contacts and host country citizens interested in learning about the United States,” he said.

He said the collections at the embassies include volumes on history, politics and culture, and include other books by U.S. presidents.

The government’s online purchasing database doesn’t say what titles the embassy in Paris bought, nor which bookseller received the $14,750.

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The short contract description posted online describes the buy as “Book Obama, 2 titles,” but it’s hardly the first time Parisians have been treated to Mr. Obama’s literary oeuvre courtesy of U.S. taxpayers.

In 2011, The Washington Times reported that U.S. embassies worldwide had paid at least $70,000 on Obama books during the first few years of his presidency, leading to criticism from taxpayer watchdog groups and a sharp letter from a congressman who demanded a halt to the practice.

A Republican House member sent a letter to the State Department complaining about the purchase. That same day, the embassy in Paris spent $8,700 on what the federal procurement database described as “Les reves de mon pere, by Barack Obama.”

That’s a reference to Mr. Obama’s 1995 book, “Dreams from My Father.”

Just months before that purchase, the embassy spent more than $11,000 on “Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters,” Mr. Obama’s 2010 children’s book.

On Thursday, another State Department official provided more information about the purchases. Spokesman William B. Stevens said that while the books were purchased in Paris through the department’s African Regional Services unit, they’re shipped out to multiple embassies in French-speaking countries throughout Africa.

He said the 50-year old program known as Nouveaux Horizons puts American books translated into French inside African bookstores at a discount rate. He said the books by Mr. Obama were among more than 30 published each year.

“Each year we send over 120,000 copies of books to the continent in an effort to enable African political, business, civic and academic leaders, as well as the general public and youth, to read the best and most current American thinking on subjects that are of special concern to U.S. missions in the region,” he said in an email.

“As an African-American leader with a unique connection to the African continent, books about President Obama resonant well with African audiences and have been quite popular, as have books about other prominent African-Americans including Colin Powell and Martin Luther King.”

Closer to home, Mr. Obama’s income as an author has been on the decline. On tax forms, he reported $104,000 last year compared with more than $250,000 in 2012. In 2009, the Obamas reported making more than $5 million thanks largely to book sales, though he also donated his $1.4 million Nobel Peace Prize award to charity.

Mr. Obama gets a cut of each book sale, though his royalties from any State Department purchases would be a small fraction of his overall literary earnings.

On financial disclosure forms, Mr. Obama has reported earning 15 percent of the U.S. price for hardcover sales of his 2008 campaign tome “The Audacity of Hope” and 7.5 percent for paperback sales.

In 2011, when The Times reported on more than $70,000 in book sales to the State Department, officials said they had purchased other books by presidents, though no reference could be found to books by either President Clinton or President George W. Bush in purchasing records.

White House press secretary Jay Carney at the time called the purchases an “embassy-based decision.”

A State Department spokeswoman told reporters that nobody in Washington suggested which book purchases should be made by individual embassies.

Still, some Republicans questioned the purchases, which also were made by embassies in Turkey, Indonesia, South Korea and Egypt, among other countries.

Rep. David Schweikert, Arizona Republican, called the purchases inappropriate in a 2011 letter to Mr. Obama, citing “record deficits and a heightened need to cut government spending.”

“Furthermore, as with any book deal, there is no doubt some level of royalties paid to you for each copy purchased by the government,” wrote Mr. Schweikert, whose office did not respond to inquiries on the latest purchase.

The letter went on to ask that the White House tell agencies to stop buying Mr. Obama’s books.

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