Mike Parker: Empty rhetoric or leading by example?
A recent article in the Dallas Morning Herald was revealing. Maura Nakahata, a senior majoring in chemistry with a minor in government at the University of Virginia, asked former Congressman Beto O’Rourke why, since he made seven times what her sister made, his sister gave more money to charity than O’Rourke donated. O’Rourke’s response was both patronizing and self-aggrandizing.
“I’ve served in public office since 2005,” he began. “I do my best to contribute to the success of my community, of my state and, now, of my country. There are ways that I do this that are measurable and there are ways that I do this that are immeasurable.”
He concluded by reminding them he was making a sacrifice at that moment by spending time with them instead of being with “our kiddos” back home in El Paso.
Such a statement seems strangely at odds with these words O’Rourke tweeted in March:
“The unprecedented concentration of wealth, power and privilege in the United States must be broken apart. Opportunity must be fully shared with all. We must all have the opportunity to succeed. Together. As one country.”
The Washington Post offered a little more information last Tuesday.
“Former congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.) released 10 years of tax returns last night. He and his wife reported $1,166 of charitable giving from a total income of $370,412 in 2017, the most recent year for which they released a return. That’s one-third of 1 percent.”
As a decimal fraction, O’Rourke’s giving was 0.00315 of his household income.
The Washington Post also observed that O’Rourke came in at the bottom of the list of current presidential candidates, comparing his giving in 2017 to the rest of the Democratic field’s 2018 charity giving. Not one Democratic Presidential candidate gave more than 6 percent. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and her husband donated 5.5 percent; Gov. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) and his wife gave roughly 4 percent; Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and his wife gave 3.4 percent; Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and her husband gave just less than 2 percent, as did Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and her husband.
Sen. Kamala Harris and her husband gave 1.4 percent. The latest figures available for former Vice President Joe Biden came from 2015. That year, he and his wife gave roughly 1.8 percent.
These numbers got me wondering. How does this level of giving compare with the average American? The Philanthropy Roundtable featured an article on its website titled, “Who Gives the Most to Charity.”
The article began with this assertion: “Between 70 and 90 percent of all U.S. households donate to charity in a given year, and the typical household’s annual gifts add up to between two and three thousand dollars.” Sorry, Beto: on average, 70 to 90 percent of Americans give more than you in terms of real dollars — not percentage.
I was floored. I thought Americans were much more generous than these figures reflect.
I kept reading:
“This is different from the patterns in any other country. Per capita, Americans voluntarily donate about seven times as much as continental Europeans. Even our cousins the Canadians give to charity at substantially lower rates, and at half the total volume of an American household.”
The article suggests three basic reasons for the American spirit of generosity: the United States is the most religious nation in the industrialized world and our respective faiths motivate giving. Second, Americans have a deep-rooted tradition of mutual aid. Third, Americans are entrepreneurial and have a sense that success, especially financial, should be used to help others become successful.
These assertions are consistent with the findings of Giving USA. A June 12, 2018 article said giving in this country topped $400 billion in charitable contributions for the first time in history. Giving in 2017 exceeded $410 billion with individual contributions leading the way at $286.65 billion of that total.
I am not trying to grind any axe against the Democratic presidential candidates. However, if a person is going to rail against the concentration of wealth and advocate spreading the wealth to everyone, isn’t leading by example the best way to make that message compelling?
Just a thought.
Mike Parker is a columnist for Neuse News. You can reach him at email@example.com .