As part of the August 2009 launch of 50 Ways You Can Help Obama Change America, Michael Huttner, the book's co-author, as well as founder and CEO of ProgressNow.org, promised to give away a trip to Hawaii to the person with the best idea to improve America. Over two years later, no prize has been awarded, and Huttner, ProgressNow and the book's publisher aren't responding to interview requests on the subject.
Stirring the pot is KHOW talk-show host Peter Boyles, whose ideological differences with ProgressNow are clear. Note that the winner of the trip was supposed to visit the hospital where Barack Obama was born -- and Boyles is a leading voice in the so-called birther movement, which questions the authenticity of documents establishing Obama as a U.S. native. For the past few days, Boyles has stated categorically that no trip was given away -- and that's confirmed by Jason Salzman, co-author of the book.
As for Salzman's participation in the project, he says, "ProgressNow, through Mike Huttner, hired me first to help him write the book for a flat fee. Then ProgressNow contracted with a publisher" -- California's PoliPointPress -- "to get it published. And later, I was hired to help ProgressNow promote it."
By the way, the ProgressNow arm involved in the project was the national organization, which has created partnerships with other progressive groups throughout the country, including Keystone Promise, One Wisconsin Now and Courage Campaign. There's also a local branch, ProgressNow Colorado, which is separate from the national organization, although the groups share the same phone number and Wynkoop Street office space.
As Salzman points out, he was a contractor to ProgressNow's national organization and had no role in the Hawaii contest beyond helping to publicize it. He suggests that questions about the contest be directed to Huttner, PoliPointPress and ProgressNow national.
Unfortunately, these three seem less than eager to address the issue. Huttner, who served as a Westword intern back in 1989, when he was still in high school, has not returned multiple interview requests. PoliPointPress hasn't replied to an inquiry, either. And ProgressNow National spokesperson Denise Cardinal, based in Minnesota, offered only an e-mail that reads, "Not to pass the buck but I just took this job -- you'll have to talk to Michael Huttner or his publisher."
Cardinal didn't answer followup questions in regard to Huttner's current status with ProgressNow. Fortunately, however, ProgressNow Colorado's Kjersten Forseth cleared up the confusion. She says Huttner ended his affiliation with the Colorado group a year or more ago and cut ties with the national organization this past October in order to create his own firm, the Huttner Group. At this writing, the Huttner Group's website is a place-holder page featuring only a phone number and an e-mail address. No response thus far to messages left or sent there.
KHOW's Boyles believes that by promising to award prizes and then not doing so, ProgressNow violated both Colorado and federal law, including the Colorado Consumer Protection Act. But thus far, he's been unable to interest the Colorado Attorney General's office in starting an investigation, as he confirmed on-air this morning during a portion of his program on which I appeared.
Even if no laws were broken, however, the organization risks appearing evasive by stonewalling on the issue. Even if Huttner is no longer part of the outfit he founded, ProgressNow was undeniably the driving force behind the project and therefore should take responsibility for dropping the ball, if that is, in fact, what took place. Note that the Colorado wing frequently criticizes politicians -- currently Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who wants to moonlight for his former law firm while in office -- for what it considers to be unethical behavior. But it's difficult to maintain high moral ground if there's an ethical cloud over actions by its parent organization.
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When and if we hear from Huttner, PoliPointPress or a representative from ProgressNow national, we'll update this post. In the meantime, here's the original press release, complete with laudatory quotes from supporters as widely varied as the late Senator Edward Kennedy and actress Jessica Alba, as well as a clip of Huttner touting the contest to Fox News' Neil Cavuto. In the video, note that Huttner mentions "prizes," implying that other giveaways will also be forthcoming in addition to the Hawaii trip.
Launch of national Help Obama Change America campaign and book release
Call for ideas and stories on how people can help change America for the better. Grand prize is trip to Hawaii and tour of hospital where President Obama was born.
For Immediate Release
Denver/San Francisco/DC -- With Congress reconvening next week, ProgressNow kicked off the Help Obama Change America campaign by inviting over two million people to help President Obama pass health care reform, enact his other core campaign promises, and move the country forward. This campaign is the first part of the national launch of 50 Ways You Can Help Obama Change America, the book by ProgressNow Founder & CEO Michael Huttner which just arrived in bookstores across the country.
"The campaign and book are designed to inspire more people to help -- at a time when progressive values are under attack in Washington and across the nation," stated Huttner. "We call on the public to submit their ideas and stories on how people can help change America for the better. The grand prize is a trip to Hawaii for a private tour of the hospital where President Obama was born."
ProgressNow and its state partners, which are hosting the campaign, are emailing the public for entries on how to help President Obama change America, from home, in their community, across the country or even around the world. The public is invited to enter by visiting the new website:
The grand-prize is a trip for two to Honolulu, Hawaii for a private tour of the hospital where President Obama was born, followed by an opportunity to take part in a community service project there on MLK Day of Service, January 18, 2010.
"After working with many people to help President Obama get elected, I've found lots of folks who want to do something more to be helpful, but aren't sure what to do," stated Huttner. "So my co-author and I wrote '50 Ways You Can Help Obama Change America.'"
Anyone from the public is welcome to enter by submitting their ideas or stories by September 30. The winners will be announced on November 4, 2009 - one year to the day that Obama gave his memorable victory speech in Chicago.
To buy a copy of "50 Ways You Can Help Obama Change America" which debuts across the country this week, people can visit their local bookstores or buy a copy on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Borders.com as well as Indiebound.org which links to independent book stores across the country.
Our proceeds from the sale of this book go entirely to ProgressNow, the nonprofit grassroots advocacy organization.
Praise for 50 Ways You Can Help Obama Change America:
"In 50 Ways You Can Help Obama Change America, Michael Huttner and Jason Salzman have given us a practical handbook on how every American can do something for our country. This book should be required reading for anyone interested in making a difference and helping President Obama get our nation back on track."
--The late Senator Edward M. Kennedy
"Paul Simon gave us 50 ways to leave your lover. Huttner and Salzman give us 50 ways to leave your country a better place. A remarkably useful resource."
--Arianna Huffington, Founder and Editor in Chief, The Huffington Post
"The historic election of President Obama marks a new chapter in American history, but it's only the beginning. This book offers every American straightforward ways to help bring real, lasting change."
-- Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards
"This up-to-date guide for the hands-on activist is a must-have blue-print for every supporter who answered Barack Obama's phrase, 'Fired up,' with 'Ready to go!'"
-- Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, Founder, Daily Kos
"Obama is an opportunity, not our solution. He'll succeed in Washington only if we the people get organized, hit the streets, and demand change. This book explains how you can do your part."
-- Ben Cohen, Co-Founder, Ben and Jerry's
"One way to keep America changing and stimulate the economy is advancing the arts...and in this new era of technology, new media, and the new world of how information is shared...a new "art form" needs to be developed...This book provides simple ways to use the arts and other means for making change."
-- Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas
"During his campaign, Obama empowered all of us to take part in initiating change, and it's imperative that we keep the momentum going by involving the next generation. This book is a great resource to encourage young people to embrace their civic responsibilities."
-- Actress Jessica Alba