The State Department has bought more than $70,000 worth of books authored by President Obama, sending out copies as Christmas gratuities and stocking “key libraries” around the world with “Dreams From My Father” more than a decade after its release.
The U.S. Embassy in Egypt, for instance, spent $28,636 in August 2009 for copies of Mr. Obama’s best-selling 1995 memoir. Six weeks earlier, the embassy had placed another order for the same book for more than $9,000, federal purchasing records show.
About the same time, halfway around the world, the U.S. Embassy in South Korea had the same idea and spent more than $6,000 for copies of “Dreams From My Father.”
One month later, the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, spent more than $3,800 for hardcover copies of the Indonesian version of Mr. Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope,” records show.
A review of the expenditures in a federal database did not reveal any examples of State Department purchases of books by former Presidents George W. Bush or Bill Clinton. The purchases of Mr. Obama’s literary work mostly, but not always, took place in the months after Mr. Obama captured the White House.
Leslie Paige, a spokeswoman for Citizens Against Government Waste, a watchdog group, said if the federal government is looking to cut costs, eliminating purchases of Mr. Obama’s books is a good place to start.
“It’s inappropriate for U.S. taxpayer dollars to be spent on this,” she said. “This sounds like propaganda.”
But State Department spokesman Noel Clay said the book purchases followed regular government procurement rules. He said diplomats have long used books as a way to help broker talks on important foreign-policy matters.
“The structure and the presidency of the United States is an integral component of representing the United States overseas,” Mr. Clay said. “We often use books to engage key audiences in discussions of foreign policy.”
He also said books are purchased to stock the State Department’s “information resource centers,” which he said are located around the world and provide books about U.S. coverage of issues such as culture, history and values.
“We also provide key library collections with books about the United States,” he said.
Pete Sepp, vice president of the National Taxpayers Union, said there could be value in distributing books about American politics and the people who make up political institutions.
“Compared to big-ticket items like embassy construction, buying books may not show up as a huge warning on taxpayers’ radar screens, but there is always room for improvement and making sure programs like this are serving a good, intended purpose,” he said.
There’s no indication the White House knew about the purchases, which overall represent just a fraction of the nearly quarter-million dollars Mr. Obama donated to charities last year and his more than $1.7 million in overall income. Mr. Clay said book orders are normally made directly by embassies based on “their experience and knowledge on the ground of the intended audience.”
A White House spokesman did not respond to email messages.
The records show a mix of English and foreign language purchases of Mr. Obama’s books.
The U.S. Embassy in Indonesia spent more than $4,800 in September 2009 for copies of “Dreams From My Father” and “The Audacity of Hope,” though the title of the latter book is spelled “Authority of Hope” in the federal spending database. The embassy spent $3,885 for additional Indonesian copies of “The Audacity of Hope,” records show.
The U.S. Embassy in Turkey spent more than $3,700 in December 2009 for what purchasing records describe as “Copies of Barack Obama’s book in Turkish.”
In March, the U.S. Embassy in Paris spent more than $8,300 for French language copies of “Dreams From My Father.” The embassy also spent more than $11,600 for French language copies of Mr. Obama’s children’s book, “Of Thee I Sing,” though any royalties he receives for purchases of that children’s book will be donated to charity, according to Mr. Obama’s financial disclosure forms.
Mr. Obama has earned far more writing books than he has earned holding government office. He reported from $1 million to $5 million in royalties in 2010 for “Dreams From My Father,” and between $100,001 and $1 million in royalties for “The Audacity of Hope.”
If he earned 10 percent royalties on roughly $60,000 in purchases of his books by the State Department, excluding the children’s book, he could expect to pocket $6,000. It’s a tiny slice of Mr. Obama’s overall earnings, though still a sizable chunk to most Americans, whose median household income in 2009 was just over $50,000.
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. He reported between $100,001 and $1 million in royalties for “The Audacity of Hope.”
Mr. Obama’s and first lady Michelle Obama’s joint 2010 tax return showed overall income of just under $1.8 million, with more than $240,000 donated to charity. The Obamas reported about $1.5 million from book-related income. Overall, they donated about 14 percent of their income to charity.
Royalties for Mr. Obama’s children’s book, “Of Thee I Sing” are being donated to the Fisher House Foundation for a scholarship fund for children of fallen and disabled soldiers, disclosure forms show.
Mr. Obama also has a deal to write another book after his presidency.