It’s a little early for another Ethics Quiz, but this one is tailor-made.
The Washington Times reported today that The State Department has bought more than $70,000 worth of books authored by President Obama. Hillary’s folks have been sending out copies as Christmas gifts, and stocking libraries around the world with “Dreams from My Father.” For example, the U.S. Embassy in Egypt spent $28,636 in August 2009 for copies of the best-selling 1995 memoir, six weeks after it had placed another order for the same book for more than $9,000. At the same time, the U.S. Embassy in South Korea spent more than $6,000 for its copies of “Dreams from My Father.” All of this comes from federal purchasing records.
The Times points out that the previous State Departments resisted the impulse to buy books by former Presidents George W. Bush or Bill Clinton.
Are you ready for your Ethics Quiz? It’s a multiple choice:
For the State Department to spend $70,000 on its boss’s book is….
a) A waste of money
b) A conflict of interest
c) An appearance of impropriety
e) Fine and dandy.
The State Department defends the purchases, stating through a spokesperson that…
“The structure and the presidency of the United States is an integral component of representing the United States overseas.We often use books to engage key audiences in discussions of foreign policy.”
Meanwhile, the Citizens Against Government Waste, a non-partisan watchdog group, cried foul. “It’s inappropriate for U.S. taxpayer dollars to be spent on this,” a spokeswoman said. “This sounds like propaganda.”
Then there are the ethical issues. A CEO whose company started buying large numbers of his or her book with company funds would have some explaining to do: it is a fairly classic conflict of interest. The author/CEO is not going to be objective about the book’s value, and he is also getting royalties from company expenditures. Government ethics regulations are particularly strict about avoiding the appearance of impropriety, and this doesn’t look especially good.
The Times notes that there is no indication that President Obama knew about the purchases, not that changes appearances. He is ultimately accountable, if not responsible.
My answer? I pick e). President Obama has a particularly compelling story, and I defer to the State Department regarding the book’s usefulness in diplomacy. I’m sure the President’s royalties are already designated to some charity, but he should clarify that to remove any doubt.
Move along, folks.
Nothing to see here!