Thursday, March 19, 2009


As he empathized with recession-weary Americans, President Obama arranged in the days just before he took office to secure a $500,000 advance for a children’s book project, a disclosure report shows.

The terms of the book deal were disclosed in a Senate financial disclosure report filed Tuesday.

Analysts say there don’t appear to be any rules that would bar such transactions after a president takes office, but it’s unclear whether an incoming or sitting president has ever signed a book deal upon entering the White House.

“I don’t recall any sitting president entering into a book deal,” said campaign finance lawyer Jan Baran, former general counsel to the Republican National Committee. “They all have historically done that after they leave office.

“I recall the only ones who did sign book deals while living there were first ladies, and my recollection is they gave it to charity.”

Mr. Obama approved the $500,000 advance on Jan. 15. The advance is against royalties under a deal with Crown Publishing, a division of Random House. The project calls for an abridged version of his book “Dreams From My Father” for middle-school-aged children, according to the disclosure.

A White House aide said that the deal had been in the works for weeks and that the publisher will abridge the book. The aide, speaking on a condition of anonymity, said the publisher will get half of the money while Mr. Obama will sign off on the final version.

In addition, the financial disclosure showed Mr. Obama brokered an amendment to an existing book deal with Crown Publishing to put off writing a nonfiction book until after he leaves office.

The book deal came on top of nearly $2.5 million in book royalties paid to Mr. Obama last year for “Dreams From My Father” and “The Audacity of Hope,” according to the Senate report, which was filed by Robert F. Bauer, who served general counsel to Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign.

The disclosure also cites income, listed as more than $1,000, paid to first lady Michelle Obama from the University of Chicago, where she had worked as vice president for community and external affairs.

Just as in 2007, public interest in Barack Obama the presidential candidate helped Barack Obama the author earn lots of money from book royalties, according to his latest financial disclosure report.

Last year, Mr. Obama reported earning $949,910 in royalties from “Dreams From My Father” and $1.5 million from “The Audacity of Hope.” In 2007, he reported $3.2 million in book royalties from Random House.

Mr. Obama’s books have helped boost the Obamas’ income considerably in recent years, from about $1 million in 2006 to more than $4 million in 2007.

After getting permission from the Senate ethics committee in January 2005, Mr. Obama agreed to a $1.9 million advance for two nonfiction books and a children’s book, of which $200,000 was to be donated to charity, according to his 2007 financial disclosure.

Ken Gross, former associate general counsel at the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and a campaign finance expert, said there doesn’t appear to be any rules that would prevent Mr. Obama from signing book deals while in the White House.

“There are members of Congress who have had deals and they get paid, I don’t know that he would have needed to sign that before January 20,” Mr. Gross said.

Last summer during a campaign event, Mr. Obama offered voters a glimpse into how he approached writing his two previous books.

Someone at a Fairfax town hall asked whether he had words of inspiration for young writers, and he responded by talking about the importance of reading and added he’d made time to read his daughters all of the books from the Harry Potter series.

“I´ve written two books; I actually wrote them myself,” he said.

On writing, he said it helped him to keep a journal.

“It forces you to ask questions of yourself, how to reconcile different attitudes and how to process different experiences,” he said, and “voice your opinions in a coherent way.”

“By the time I wrote the book, I had a better sense of where my life had been and why I was doing what I was doing,” he said.

• Chuck Neubauer contributed to this report.

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