GOP Labels Al Gore a 'Scrooge'
By Judith Havemann
The Republican National Committee labeled Al Gore "Vice President Scrooge" yesterday for donating just $353 to charity last year on an income of $197,729 as conservatives tried to transform Gore's giving into a national political embarrassment.
In a circular sent to talk show hosts across the country, the Republicans pointed out that the vice president gave only about half as much to worthy causes as the average American earning but a fraction of his pay.
Gore gave away only a "miniscule [sic] .0017 percent of his income" the committee said, suggesting that for all the administration's talk of charitable responsibility, the vice president was not practicing what he preached.
According to Independent Sector, a nonpartisan group that studies philanthropy, the average U.S. family contributed $696, or 1.7 percent of its income, to charitable causes in 1995, the last year for which figures are available. Households with incomes above $100,000 a year contribute an average of $2,994, or 2.2 percent.
Gore's office said that the vice president had given "more than $85,000 over the last five years to charity" and that the Republicans were in no position to criticize after they "had tried to slash money for education, health care and the environment" during the same period.
But as columnists and talk radio hosts dubbed Gore "Cheap Al," it became clear that Gore, at least, was willing to do what few others weren't: disclose what he gave away.
Indeed, on Capitol Hill, spokesmen for both House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) would not reveal what their bosses donated to philanthropy last year, pointing a reporter instead to members' annual financial disclosure statements.
Those ethics filings, however, are designed only to reveal any potential conflicts of interest between a member's private holdings and public voting patterns. Many members of Congress donate speaking fees to charity by law they cannot keep them but otherwise the reports reveal little about a member's commitment to charity.
Gephardt "feels like it is one of the last domains of privacy that he and his wife would like to keep intact," said Sharon Daniels, a spokesman for the minority leader, who is widely considered a likely challenger to Gore for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000.
Only a year ago, Gen. Colin L. Powell stood with President Clinton and Gore on a platform in Philadelphia to urge Americans to get more involved in helping the poor.
Asked about Powell's own philanthropy, his spokesman said Powell makes "significant contributions" to charity but is "not interested in divulging how much."
"Let's put this in perspective," said Col. Bill Smullen, his spokesman. "He gives every day. He is the chairman of an organization that reaches out to others to give philanthropically."
Former education secretary William J. Bennett, the author of books on moral values and head of Empower America, declined to make public his charitable contributions as well. "It would be unseemly," said the organization's executive director, Christian Pinkston.
Conservative columnist Arianna Huffington said Gore is setting a "really sad example" by giving so little when the need is so great. Huffington, the former wife of 1994 Senate candidate Michael Huffington and a crusader for increased giving, said she contributed 10 percent of her $420,000 income last year to charities that serve the poor and needy.
"Anybody that would like to see my tax returns can see them," she said. "There is a lot of hypocrisy out there."
Gore is not required to disclose his tax returns, but presidents and vice presidents have voluntarily made them public ever since Richard M. Nixon got in trouble for paying $792.81 in taxes on income of $268,777 during one year of his presidency.
Former vice president Dan Quayle, who may seek the Republican presidential nomination in the next election, could not be reached for comment on his current charitable giving, nor could two other likely Republican challengers, Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes and Sen. John D. Ashcroft (Mo.). When he was vice president, Quayle disclosed charitable payments of $17,307, $2,934, $3,624, and $5,670, respectively in the four years he served in the Bush administration.
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