Sunday, April 14, 2013

Obamas set example in charitable giving

On this day when procrastinators are busily preparing their taxes, the White House has announced that President Obama and Vice President Biden have already submitted their tax forms. Unlike most 1040s, these contain some interesting reading.

What I find interesting is not how much money the president made (about half again his presidential salary of $400,000) or how much he paid in taxes. What I find interesting is how much he gave away. The president and first lady gave about $150,000 to charity, about 25% of their total income. That's a lot more than the biblical admonition to give 10% of your gross income. Having worked for two nonprofit charities, I appreciate and admire people who are generous with their worldly treasure. About 35% of Americans give nothing to charity. They keep it all for themselves. Americans earning more than $250,000 give an average of $28,110. That makes the president's $150,000 far, far more generous than his peer group, although he is well below the multi-million dollar incomes included in that group.

The people who demonize Obama in every way and as often as they possibly can won't like this report, but it's a fact: Barak and Michelle Obama are far more generous with their money than average Americans or even than far-above-average Americans, income-wise. You can disagree with Obama's policies and political choices all you want, but you have to give credit to the guy for his generosity toward charities.

He's far more generous than most presidents have been. Ronald Reagan, whom I admired in many ways, gave very little to charity (2.1% in 1982). Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush set good examples with their charitable giving and continue to work for charitable causes. Obama deserves credit for his generosity and for the example he sets for the country. If every taxpayer was as generous, proportionally, as the Obamas, charitable organizations would be rolling in money instead of scrimping to pay the bills.

Vice President Joe Biden, on the other hand, should be embarrassed by the pittance he gives to charity. On an income of $385,000, the Bidens gave $7,200 to charity. That's less than 2%, and for the Bidens, that's an improvement from some past years. The Bidens, despite making several times more money than my wife and I, gave considerably less to charity in 2012 than we did.

Although he speaks frequently of his strong Catholic faith, Biden's tax return shows he's not very supportive of his church in the way that it really counts — in the collection plate. The Bidens' return shows that they gave $2,400 to Biden's Catholic diocese in Delaware and $1,000 to the Presbyterian church Jill Biden attends. In the little church we attend (and where we give the bulk of our charitable dollars), $2,400 does not make you a generous giver. In most churches, $1,000 or even $2,400 a year would not meet the budget. The Bidens should be ashamed to call themselves church supporters when they give less than 1% of their treasure to the church.

For the record, Mitt Romney, who was defeated in the 2012 election, gave generously to his church (as most Mormons do) and to other charities.

The media — and voters — should pay more attention to what public officials do (with their money) and less attention to what they say.

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