Moneybox

Some of the 2020 Dems Should Really Be Giving a Lot More to Charity

Beto O'Rourke gesticulates while speaking at an event.
Not great, Beto. (O’Rourke speaks during a gathering of the National Action Network on April 3 in New York.)
Don Emmert/Getty Images

Who would have guessed that Beto O’Rourke was a total Scrooge?

The Democratic 2020 hopefuls have started releasing their tax returns in the name of transparency (how quaint!), and among other information about their finances, it’s giving us an opportunity to learn a bit about their charitable giving habits—which in some cases are frankly a bit stingy.

Credit to the Washington Post for scouring the candidates’ returns for this info, which they published on Tuesday. First, here’s how much of their total income candidates gave away, from most generous to least. All numbers are for last year, unless otherwise noted.

Elizabeth Warren: 5.5 percent.
The senator from Massachusetts and her husband gave $50,000 on $906,000 in income.

Jay Inslee: 4.1 percent
The Washington governor and his wife gave $8,295 on $203,000 in income.

Bernie Sanders: 3.4 percent
The Vermont senator and his wife gave $19,000 on $566,000 in income. Sanders told the Post that total did not include proceeds he gave away from his book but did not claim as deductions on his taxes. We’ll have to take him on his word.

Amy Klobuchar: 1.9 percent
The Minnesota senator and her husband gave $6,600 on $338,500 of income.

Kirsten Gillibrand: 1.7 percent
The New York senator and her husband gave $3,750 on $215,000 of income.

Kamala Harris: 1.4 percent
The California senator and her husband gave $27,000 on $1.9 million of income.

Beto O’Rourke: 0.31 percent.
No, you are not reading that wrong. In 2017, the most recent return he’s released, the former Texas representative and his wife gave just $1,166 on $370,412 of income, less than 1 percent of what they earned.

So, O’Rourke’s number is self-evidently terrible. I thought maybe it was just one bad year, but alas, no. In 2016, he and his wife donated $857, or 0.25 percent of their income. In 2015, they gave $867, or 0.24 percent of their income. Not great, Beto.

But as for the other candidates? For their income, Sanders, Inslee, and Warren are all somewhat above average givers by U.S. standards. The others are a bit below average. Based on IRS data, the Tax Policy Center shows that Americans who earn between $100,000 and $500,000 contribute about 2.9 percent of their adjusted gross income to charity; those who earn between $500,000 and $2 million give about 3.1 percent. (The Post’s calculations are based on total income, not AGI, which is your income after subtracting away certain deductions. The candidates’ giving would probably be slightly higher as a percentage of AGI, but you still get the idea.)

Charitable giving
Tax Policy Center

These figures do need a few caveats. First, they only cover people who itemize their taxes and took the charitable deduction, which is only about a quarter of taxpayers. There are lots of people who give to charity but take the standard deduction who won’t show up in these figures. Also, you might notice that people who make under $50,000 seem to donate the most in this table relative to their income. But the figures in that income bracket are probably a bit skewed, since it includes some relatively well-off business owners whose companies have a bad year, with the losses showing up in their personal taxes. So take that bit with a grain of salt.

Point being: O’Rourke needs to up his giving game. I know. Maintaining a dual residence in Washington and Texas is probably expensive. But offer some money for your local food bank or homeless shelter, man.

Also, in case you’re looking for a quick, more detailed guide to what you should give to charity each year, here’s a more detailed list of average charitable contributions by income bracket drawn from the IRS’s data. See if you measure up better than the O’Rourkes.

Average charitable giving by Americans.
Jordan Weissmann