The authors of a highly touted and well-endorsed progressive book promoting Barack Obama apparently have reneged on promises of a contest prize that was intended to send the winner to Hawaii for a tour of the hospital where Obama reportedly was born.
Denver talk show leader Peter Boyles
More than a year ago, Michael Huttner, author along with Jason Salzman of “50 Ways You Can Help Obama Change America,” told Denver’s KHOW radio talk show host Peter Boyles that the reader who came up with the best story on how they had helped Obama change America would be given a prize.
But, apparently, no contest winner was named or rewarded.
Huttner originally had told Boyles of the prize plans as part of his efforts to promote his book, published as a paperback on Sept. 1, 2009.
“Huttner and Salzman got a lot of press in Denver and nationally when they published this book and announced their contest, but now … it’s turned out to be a big scam,” Boyles told WND. “Today, Progress Now doesn’t want to admit they even know Huttner or Salzman. This is an embarrassment to Progress Now and it should be an embarrassment to President Obama.”
WND could not locate either Huttner or Salzman for comment.
On Monday, Boyles reported on air that Salzman called him at home and acknowledged that no contest winner had been selected, no winner had been sent to Hawaii this month as promised, no visit had been paid to Kapi’olani Medical Center to discredit “birthers” and no community service had been performed in Hawaii to commemorate the 2011 Martin Luther King holiday weekend.
In an interview on KHOW with Boyles when the book was first published, Huttner explained that he had created a website “50WaysYouCanHelpObama.com” to invite people to submit examples of ways they had helped Obama “change America” in their local communities since Obama was first elected president in November 2008.
On air when the book was published, Huttner explained to Boyles and his radio audience that his goal in having the book contest winner visit Kapi’olani Medical Center was “to dismiss this whole ‘birther’ theory as ridiculous, even though they keep raising it.”
In that radio interview, Huttner told Boyles that the contest winner, to be selected by website users, would get a round trip to Hawaii on the Martin Luther King holiday weekend in January 2011, a private tour of Kapi’olani Medical Center, the hospital where Obama was supposedly born, and participate in a local community service event in commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In the same interview, Huttner also told Boyles that he had formed in the back room of his Denver law office an organization designed to support Obama, named “Progress Now,” that he headed as CEO.
At the time the book was published, Huttner claimed Progress Now had grown to operate in 12 states, with a claimed membership of 2 million.
Huttner is currently not credited on the ProgressNow.org website as being a founder of the organization, nor is he listed on the website as being a current officer or member of the board.
Ellen Dumm, the executive director of the Campaign for a Strong Colorado, currently is serving as spokeswoman for Progress Now Colorado and told WND she knows nothing about Huttner or Salzman.
“They [Huttner and Salzman] haven’t been with the organization for some time,” Dumm said, promising to assist WND in tracking down a phone number for the authors.
“I think it is a clear instance of fraud,” Boyles told WND, “and I suspect some laws were broken in advertising and conducting a contest to promote a book, creating a website to invite contest entries and contest voting, and then never delivering on the contest prize as promised.”
Colorado attorney Chuck Bonniwell told WND that Huttner and Salzman might have violated Colorado laws by holding a contest and not awarding a prize.
“The Colorado Consumer Protection Act is generally intended to prevent deceptive trade practices,” said Bonniwell. “Advertising that a consumer will be awarded a 24″ flat-screen color TV and the customer ends up being awarded a smaller, inferior TV may be interpreted as a deceptive trade practice. So too might be holding a contest and not awarding a prize.”
Bonniwell told WND that consumer protection acts vary by state. “Under Colorado’s law, a consumer could bring civil actions for damages and attorneys fees,” he said, “or the attorney general of the state or the district attorney of any county in which a deceptive transaction occurred could bring civil actions for larger sums of money and possibly be awarded damages.”
On the book’s Amazon.com listing, Huttner and Salzman received endorsements for “50 Ways You Can Help Obama Change America” from a long list of prominent Democrats and progressives, including a blurb from the late-Senator Edward M. Kennedy, from Arianna Huffington – founder of HuffingtonPost.com, Markos Moulitsas Zúnga – founder of DailyKos.com, CNN political Analyst Paul Begala, and former DNC head Howard Dean.
Scott Jordan, the head of Polipoint Press, the publisher of “50 Ways You Can Help Obama Change America,” told WND the book sold somewhere between 4,000-5,000 copies, a sales threshold that is typically considered marginally profitable in the publishing industry even for specialty publishing houses such a Polipoint, a press that specializes in publishing progressive titles.
“We thought the book was going to be hot back in 2009, when Obama seemed like he was walking on water,” Jordan told WND. “It turned out Obama was less hot than we thought.”
Huttner’s co-author, Salzman, published an anti-Bush book in 2004, with co-author Ben Cohen, one of the founders of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, titled “50 Ways You Can Show George the Door in 2004.”
According to HuffingtonPost.com, Salzman is a former media critic for Rocky Mountain News, until it ceased operations in 2009.
Bonniwell has filled in for Peter Boyles as a KHOW guest host when Boyles has been absent from the show.