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Obama’s gifts to charity: Just 1 percent?

at 06:02 AM ET, 02/15/2012


(Chip Somodevilla/GETTY IMAGES)

“All respect due, he [President Obama] reported giving one percent of his income away to charity and he wants to lecture me about being responsible as a steward of my resources. Mr. President, the last time I checked, the bare minimum for a believer is a dime out of a dollar that is supposed to go to take care of the widows, the poor, the orphans.”

--Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (R), speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Feb. 10, 2012

Onetime presidential aspirant Mike Huckabee made this statement after claiming that the president had said at the national prayer breakfast that “Jesus would want us to pay higher tax rates.” We will leave it to readers and theologians to decide if Obama actually said that, or if his use of the relevant scripture was correct.

But we were curious if Huckabee was right in asserting that Obama gives so little to charity. Huckabee framed it as a sign of a person’s character, urging the audience to vet every candidate, Republican or Democrat, for how much they give in charitable contributions.

The Facts

Every year, the president releases his tax returns, so there is little mystery about the extent of his contributions to charity.

In 2010, for instance, the president’s taxable income was a little over $1.7 million, much of it from book sales. Line 19 of his itemized deductions shows that he gave $245,075 in gifts to charity.

That would be a rate of more than 14 percent, easily meeting Huckabee’s standard of a “dime out of a dollar.”

In 2009, the president’s taxable income was about $5.5 million. He listed $329,100 in charitable contributions on his tax return and also directed the Nobel Prize Committee to give his $1.4 million prize directly to 10 charities (which meant he could not take a tax deduction for donating the prize).

This adds up to a rate of 31.4 percent of taxable income, again easily surpassing Huckabee’s standard. (Update: a reader correctly notes the percentage would be 25.1 percent if you added Obama’s Nobel Prize money to his taxable income.)

So, what’s going on here? A Huckabee spokesman did not respond to a query, but the best we can determine is that Huckabee is referring to Obama’s long-ago tax returns.

When then-presidential candidate Obama released his tax returns during the 2008 campaign, it was revealed that he began making significant gifts to charity after he started making serious money from his books — and after he decided to run for president.

Here’s what the numbers look like:

2005: $77,315 to charity out of income of $1.66 million (4.6 percent)

2004: $2,500 out of $207,647 (1.2 percent)

2003: $3,400 out of $238,327 (1.4 percent)

2002: $1,050 out of $259,394 (0.4 percent)

The disparity between income and charitable contributions in 2002 is striking—less than half a penny on the dollar.

But that was 10 years ago. And whatever one may think of Obama’s motivation to give to charity now that his tax returns are public, the fact remains that he gives a substantial chunk of his income to charity.

Incidentally, since Huckabee said all candidates should be scrutinized for how much they donate to charity, the San Antonio Express-News reported that former Texas governor (and ex-GOP primary candidate) Rick Perry was rather parsimonious, giving just one-half of one percent to churches and religious organizations. (On average, Americans give about 1.2 percent, the newspaper said.) And former House speaker Newt Gingrich’s return shows a rate of 2.6 percent of taxable income given to charity. (Rick Santorum and Ron Paul have not yet released their tax returns.)

UPDATE: Santorum released his tax returns, showing that in 2010 he gave 1.7 percent ($16,289) of his taxable income of $923,411 to charity.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney meets Huckabee’s test. His 2010 tax return shows that he contributed nearly $3 million to charitable causes out of taxable income of $21.6 million. That’s 13.8 percent, just about equal to Obama’s percentage in that year. (For more information, see The Washington Post’s side-by-side comparison of the Obama, Romney and Gingrich 2010 tax returns.)

The Pinocchio Test

Huckabee would have been on more solid ground if he had focused on Obama’s contribution record before he became a U.S. senator and presidential candidate.

But Huckabee framed his comment in the here and now, referring to “Mr. President.” Obama’s contributions to charity once may have been relatively small, but today they are actually substantial--and equal to the percentage given by the front-runner for the GOP nomination.

Two Pinocchios




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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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