It’s becoming difficult to tell if modern presidential candidates are writing books to help their campaigns, or campaigning to sell their books.

Most politicians, going back several decades, have made writing a book part of their election game plan. But what’s happening in this political season — a season filled with all sorts of unusual twists — is that candidates are designing campaign appearances to sell books, and skirting federal election law to keep the profits.

John Darkow / Columbia Daily Tribune (click to view more cartoons by Darkow)

Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, and Herman Cain before his campaign crashed, have taken book promotion to new heights. Gingrich regularly conducts book signings at campaign stops, where customers paying $25 might reasonably assume they are aiding the Gingrich election fund, while in fact the money is going straight to Newt and Callista Gingrich’s private company.

Mrs. Gingrich sells her children’s book at her husband’s campaign stops, and the Gingrich for President website enables visitors to purchase the full catalog of earlier Gingrich titles.

Bachmann’s recent campaign tour through South Carolina revolved around appearances at bookstores and, according to The Wall Street Journal, the trip was paid for by her publisher. Is she staying in the race despite shrinking poll numbers to sell more books?

Candidates are prohibited by law from profiting personally from campaign activities. But the Federal Election Commission was deadlocked this year in deciding whether candidates could host campaign events in places where publishers had paid them to travel. That opened the door to the current book-selling juggernaut.

John McCain and Barack Obama each had books out during the 2008 campaign, but neither hawked them at campaign appearances. Gingrich and Bachmann, on the other hand, routinely hold campaign events in bookstores.

While Cain was in the race, his campaign aides expressed frustration that travel plans were geared to book promotion rather than wooing votes in key states.

Even a wannabe like Donald Trump, who can’t seem to decide if he wants to run for president or just threaten to do so, has just published a book outlining his plans to rescue the nation.

Of the current candidates, only Mitt Romney has disclosed how much has been earned from book deals. Romney reportedly received more than $100,000 in royalties, and gave it to charity. Gingrich, Bachmann and the others won’t say.

Beyond money, writing a book — usually with help from a scholarly collaborator — provides a handy crutch in debates and on the stump. “It’s all in my book,” is the go-to answer when the questions get tough.

Sometimes, however, a book causes candidates to eat their words. Rick Perry’s case was a classic, when he talked about his highly controversial book on the “Today” show just a few months before announcing his candidacy.

“If there is a better signal of my plan for the future of not running for the presidency of the United States, it’s this book,” Perry said in November 2010. “Anyone running for the presidency is not going to take on these issues with the power that I do.”

Sometimes selling books is more difficult than attracting votes. According to The Journal, Bachmann’s publisher encouraged a bookstore in Iowa to buy 400 copies of the candidate’s book. The store opted for 200, and wound up selling 11.

The campaign that hasn’t even reached the voting stage continues to find new ways to make the political process into a media sideshow. There’s nothing wrong with authoring a book, but it’s discomfiting to watch the degree to which the current candidates are marketing their wares.

Ron Paul, who has written several books, has one on the market perfectly geared to the season. Not the campaign season, the holiday season. It’s the new edition of the “Ron Paul Family Cookbook.”


Peter Funt is a writer and speaker and can be reached at 

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