Presidential hopeful Robert “Beto” O’Rourke released ten years of tax returns this week. Good for him. It’s more than the sitting president has seen fit to do. But the compliments end there.
According to the Washington Post, O’Rourke and his wife reported a total income of $370,412 in 2017, the most recent year for which they released a return.
Plugging that figure into a Pew Research Center tax calculator means that the O’Rourke family is well within the top 10 percent of income earners in El Paso.
There’s no reason to begrudge their wealth, particularly when it’s earned.
Yet, the O’Rourkes reported only $1,166 of charitable giving that year — a total, the Post also notes, that constitutes “one-third of 1 percent” of the family’s income.
First, I will stipulate, most if not all of us could be more charitable. There are innumerable good causes and no shortage of need. But as a people, Americans are remarkably generous — giving an estimated $410 billion in 2017 — more than the GDP of countries such as Israel and Ireland, and most of that money is given by individuals, not corporations or foundations.
The O’Rourkes, apparently, are not among the more generous Americans; $1,166 is a surprisingly small sum for anyone of means, let alone a policymaker whose net worth was about $9 million in 2015, ranking him 51st out of 435 members in the House of Representatives in terms of wealth.
And it’s appallingly small for a presidential candidate whose platform includes all sorts of progressive economic programming that would increase taxes on middle class incomes, such as a $15 minimum wage and Medicare for all.
I’m not the only person who has noticed this disconnect.
At a campaign event in Virginia on Tuesday, a student asked O’Rourke “why, as someone who earns seven times the amount of income as [her sister], a recent college graduate, does, [O’Rourke] gives less in charitable donations ...?”
In reply, the former El Paso Congressman pointed first to his public service, then hinted that he and his wife didn’t keep comprehensive records of many of their donations.
But it wasn’t just bad accounting, O’Rourke continued. His generosity is exhibited by his gift of self. “I’m doing everything I can right now,” he said, “spending this time with you, not with our kiddos, not back home in El Paso because I want to sacrifice everything to make sure that we meet this moment of truth with everything that we’ve got.”
The crux of his defense, it seems, is that his decision to run for president is his true charity.
Of course, that doesn’t explain his lack of generosity in prior years — less than $900 in 2015 and 2016 — when he was merely a congressman.
In fairness, O’Rourke isn’t an anomaly among his White House-seeking peers, the most generous of whom appears to be Sen. Elizabeth Warren who reported donating about 5.5 percent of her income in 2007.
Charitable giving shouldn’t have a political edge, but data cited by Arthur Brooks shows that “conservative-headed” households “give, on average, 30 percent more dollars to charity than households headed by a ‘liberal,’” even though the average liberal family earns 6 percent more per year than the average conservative family.
To that end, it’s worth pointing out how now-Sen. Mitt Romney was castigated for his wealth and vilified as a cold-hearted businessman during his 2012 presidential campaign, despite his undeniable financial generosity: he and his wife, Ann, gave 29.4 percent of their income to charity in 2011, a total of more than $4 million.
Between his live-streamed dental visits, punk rock performances and tabletop antics, O’Rourke does contribute a certain je ne sais quoi to the race. And O’Rourke’s constant posturing along the border suggests migrants are a cause close to his heart.
I’m guessing that Catholic Charities, which runs comprehensive migrant and refugee services in O’Rourke’s hometown, would much prefer a generous monetary donation from its native son. Sorry, but “spending this time” with us isn’t enough.