Campaigners hit the road with campaign books

Photo by Gage Skidmore

by Ben Resnik

The 2012 campaign has been hamstrung, and we know who did it. The culprit follows every candidate wherever he or she goes, is generally 250 to 350 pages long, and is available in both paperback and hardcover. It is an old tactic but one that has taken on a special prominence in this season’s confused and jagged path to Election Day: the campaign book.

These books are available at your local bookstore — and a substantial amount of the money handed over for these books goes right to their authors. As a result, there is a perverse incentive for even the least qualified to seek office. Although the candidate’s chances of being elected are virtually nil, a run for office accompanied by a book tour can be a very lucrative pursuit.

There is no better example this year than Herman Cain. The former Godfather’s Pizza CEO rose to prominence with his calls for a national flat tax, which he dubbed the 9-9-9 Plan. As Cain’s campaign gained credibility, he began to tour the country with gusto. Of course, not every stop was political — Cain’s campaign tour just happened to parallel the publicity tour for his autobiography, “This Is Herman Cain!” Voters curious about the man and his fiery rhetoric bought books and showed up at signings to hear more. As Cain’s support increased, so did his profit margin.

And some of Cain’s methods for converting voter interest into no-strings-attached money were even more direct. As several news outlets have noted, Cain’s PAC used voter donations to buy copies of his book in bulk, which transferred the money from the campaign chest to the candidate’s pocket. No news was bad news for Herman Cain. Even allegations of sexual harassment served to pique interest in the man, increasing book sales and inspiring sympathetic donations to his campaign. Now, although Cain’s campaign is suspended, the money raised stays in the campaign’s coffers. It can be donated to charity, or returned to the donors, or even used to buy copies of “This Is Herman Cain!”

This example is extreme but not necessarily unique. Every single member of the current Republican field has a book available for purchase. Each of these books has been publicized with a book tour by the candidate, with signing stops interspersed between rallies and speeches. This means that regardless of a candidate’s standing in the polls, each candidate has directly profited from his or her run for the White House. Money from book sales can be funneled into the candidate’s campaign and vice versa.

Of course, just because the candidates have the ability to transfer these funds doesn’t mean they will, nor does it mean that those running for office are doing so purely out of an interest in profit. But the fact that the situation exists points to a monetization of the political process that is quite troubling.

Without mentioning potential consequences for voters, this marriage of political and monetary fortune has ravaged the Republican field. Surprise stars of 2008 such as Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee have stayed out of the current race, opting instead for the financial rewards of six-figure speaking tours and high-profile punditry. There is no reason to believe this affliction won’t extend to the Democrats in 2016.

Money and politics have been bedfellows since this nation’s inception. But never before has it been so direct. In modern politics, the loudest and most ideological candidates get more than voters — they get dollars. The most successful candidates are the ones whose ideas can be packaged and sold. Voter mobilization means profit and vice versa, to the point where one does not exist without the other. So when the dust settles after Nov. 6, don’t check with the pundits for the next batch of candidates — check the best-seller list.

 

Photo by Gage Skidmore

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