Christopher CoffeyRepublican Commentator

With his massive wealth transfer proposals, it was hard not to view President Obama as a decent man who was inviting fiscal ruin with the best of intentions. That was until the Washington Times reported that he had secured a $500,000 advance for a book project just days before taking office.

The White House argues that the $500,000 payment is not a "book deal," but a "license" that was negotiated over the course of months for an abridged youth version of a preexisting book. Only the "paperwork" was signed just before taking office.

Whatever the argument, it is incumbent on President Obama to return his book advance immediately. Here's why.

First, Obama's deal gives the impression of impropriety. A president, or president- elect, with the highest ethics, should shun large private pecuniary arrangements, so as not to cast doubt on the office, or the intentions of the office holder. In the case of President Obama, the deal makes him look like an old school Chicago politician looking to get rich off of public service.

Second, Obama is cashing in on a loophole. According to the Washington Times, there are no rules preventing such a deal, just as there were no rules against most of the actions leading to the present financial crisis. The trouble with this loophole is that Obama has been criticizing corporations for taking advantage of loopholes, even though he took advantage of a big one himself.

Third, Obama's $500,000 deal sets a poor precedent. How do we distinguish between a book deal now; a book and movie deal four years from now; a book, movie and consulting deal eight years from now; and simply a consulting deal or other arrangement 12 years from now? Unless returned, Obama's book advance (or license) could allow future presidents to profit more and more at the expense of the public good.

Fourth, the advance smacks of exploitation. Obama surrogates are stressing that the payment is a license to a children's publisher for an abridged youth-oriented version of a preexisting book. Somehow this is supposed to make the arrangement innocuous; but this is what makes it so bad. The fact that they hide behind youth makes it all the more exploitive.

Last, it is pure hypocrisy. Obama is continually slamming those who make money, while quietly getting rich himself, and this undermines his credibility.

The White House defense of Obama's publishing payment is truly unpersuasive. Whether one calls it a "license" or a "book deal," the fact remains that President Obama negotiated a lucrative private arrangement while both a presidential candidate and president-elect. This arrangement casts doubt on the president's ethics and judgment. It also begs the question of how he intends to spend his time in the White House. Will he be negotiating profitable license deals and approving abridged versions of his books? Or will he be governing our nation? Instead of negotiating this license, Obama's time would have been better spent staffing the Treasury Department and figuring a way out of the credit mess.

There will be plenty of time for President Obama to augment his income after he leaves office. As it stands now, he should return the book advance to his publisher and apologize to the nation for using his office to enrich himself at a time of economic distress.