It's Super Tuesday and voters in 11 states are waking up to the opportunity to help determine who will be the republican candidate for president of the United States. From job creation to the deficit to the future of Social Security and Medicare, we put the candidates under our own microscopes in order to help us figure out which lever to pull. But what about their character? With all the mudslinging and canned debate rhetoric, how do you tap into who these people really are? I thought it might be interesting to look at them through the lens of charitable contributions.
In January Mitt Romney's finances were front and center in the news. Regardless of how you feel about the former Massachusetts governor only paying about 15% in taxes due to his mostly capital gains based income, he gave a tremendous amount of money to charity. In 2010 Mr. Romney and his wife, Ann, contributed nearly $3 million to charitable organizations. That's 13.8% of the couple's adjusted gross income (AGI).
Former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich reported that he and his wife, Callista, gave $81,133 to charity in 2010 which accounted for 2.6% of their $3.1 million combined AGI. Rick Santorum and his wife, Karen, reportedly gave $16,744, or 1.8% of their AGI, to charity in the same year. No data is available for Texas Congressman Ron Paul as he has not released any tax records.
So where do these presidential hopefuls stand compared to other wealthy Americans? Well, Philanthropy.com reported statistics from the IRS showing that in 2009 Americans who earned between $500,000 and $1 million gave on average 2.6% of their total income to charitable organizations. Those fortunate enough to have earned $1 - 1.5 million gave on average 2.9%. Data on charitable contributions for those Americans earning more than that were not found.
So clearly Mr. Romney gave the most, however, he also appears to have the greatest ability to give based on a total net worth of upwards of $200 million. The other candidates have much lower capacity to give with Mr. Santorum having the least with an estimated net worth between $1 - 3 million. But how much of their income should they be giving to charity? With solid income and multi-million dollar assets it would be easy to say that they could all be exemplary citizens and give 10% of their income to charity. The only one who might deserve a bit of a break is Mr. Santorum who has seven young children - none of which have completed college yet.
And what about the Democrats you ask? President Obama and First Lady Michelle gave $245,075 to charitable organizations according to their 2010 tax return. That represents 14.2% of the presidential couple's AGI of $1,728,096. Vice President Biden's personal philanthropy fell far below the rest though. In 2010 he and his wife, Jill, gave charities only $4,400 or 1.16% of their AGI of $379,178.
Charitable donations are just one way we can give back to our community. And while it doesn't give a full picture of the candidate's philanthropy - especially since we didn't even begin to dissect the types of organizations they are giving to, that is an article in and of itself - it does possibly peel back a layer of their persona so that we can focus on yet another facet of their character.