Barack Obama And Private Charity

Aug 23 2012 @ 6:31pm

A reader writes:

So, let me get this straight: President Obama's income in 2005 is eight times as much as it was in 2004, but his charitable givings are 30 times as much? And this is criticism?

Another:

Re: Paul Ryan and Private Charity, it's also worth putting into context Obama's past charitable contributions with his overall wealth.

Obama fondly recounts that his credit card was declined in 2004 when he was renting a car in Boston just before giving the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention.  It's well known that he was still paying back student loans until the time his book sales took off, coinciding with his successful run for the U.S. senate.

I don't discount that the Obamas' very generous donations to charity are in part rooted to the fact the numbers are made public.  That said, I'm not sure that they could have afforded to donate any more before 2004 considering they, like many Americans, were balancing a mortgage, two kids and remaining school debt – thus, a clear example of why the private charity argument is hollow at its core.

Update from a reader:

This is actually inaccurate. Obama's credit card was declined when he tried to rent a car for the 2000 convention.

Another:

Aren’t you only able to "put [those charitable contributions] on record" because President Obama has released his tax returns covering those years?  Where are Mitt Romney’s returns for those years, which would allow an apples-to-apples comparison of the top of each ticket?  Over and over we see how Romney’s unwillingness to be forthcoming with information for voters allows him to avoid public examination of his record, even on relatively minor or tangential points.

We can also put on the record that Obama did not take advantage of the 2009 tax amnesty for funds held in Swiss bank accounts.  Can the same be said of Romney?  No, we can’t say that, because the Romneys doesn’t believe voters deserve or are smart enough to be trusted with transparency, or because they're simply arrogant enough to think "you people" only deserve whatever information they deign to offer.

Another:

Obama may not have a long pre-national political scene charitable history, but Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado is a nice example of someone who does. He released 23 years of tax returns (take that, Mitt!) during the 2010 race, saying:

When I made a decision to go into public service, I accepted there would be a certain level of transparency. That's ethical and responsible. I want people to believe in government and believe in elected officials and a lot of it comes down to trust. As long as you're hiding stuff, it's hard to get that trust.

He made about $16 million during that time, of which he donated $2.8 million (roughly 17%). But even before he was wealthy or even remotely involved in politics, he always donated. From the Colorado Independent:

His charitable giving began before he got rich. In 1986, he gave away $9,200 on an income of $62,000. In 1987, he gave $2,900 out of an income of $15,000. In 2008, he gave away almost $120,000 out of a joint income of just under $500,000. The most he has given in one year was $626,235 on an income of just over $1.3 million in 2004.