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The Schmooze

We Ranked Democratic Candidates By How Much They Give To Charity

To paraphrase John Lennon — tax season is over, if you want it. Tax season is over, Hallelujah.

And as a benefit of the heady collision of tax time and a pre-presidential election year, major 2020 candidates have continued to release their tax returns, under growing pressure from critics and constituents.

Over the past days a flurry of 2020 Democratic hopefuls have released recent tax returns, including Senator Bernie Sanders, Representative Kamala Harris, Representative Beto O’Rourke, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Senator Amy Klobuchar, and Governor Jay Inslee. Senator Elizabeth Warren was one of the first to release her returns, on April 10.

Senator Cory Booker and buzzy Mayor Pete Buttigieg have not yet released their returns. Neither has former Vice President Joe Biden, though he did as recently as 2015. Notably, President Trump has also not released his tax returns, though he is under ongoing pressure to do so.

In an article in the Washington Post, James Hohmann calculated what percentage of their income that candidates and their spouses gave to charity in the past years, based on the released returns. The results…really, really range.

Tzedakah, literally translated as “justice,” is an obligation, not a suggestion, in Jewish text and tradition. The Torah demands that Jews give ten percent of their income away, and Maimonides famously argues that the highest forms of tzedakah involve giving anonymously to anonymous recipients. And the Talmud cautions that whether or not some recipients are actually in need or are merely grifters should not be the concern of the giver.

But enough! Let’s examine the generosity of these 2020 candidates:

In last place:

Beto O’Rourke is famous for raising money — his grassroots senatorial campaign in 2019 nearly took down Ted Cruise, thanks in part to an onslaught of individual donations. But O’Rourke himself hasn’t been so generous — with just $1,166 of his and wife Amy Hoover Sanders’ $370,412 income in 2017 given to charity that year, he is the least-giving candidate so far on record, at one-third of one percent of his income given up for those in need.

Under two percent:

At $27,000 given to charity in 2017, Kamala Harris and husband Douglas Emhoff gave significantly more than O’Rourke and Hoover Sanders, though at a combined income of $1.9 million, this still only comes out to 1.4 percent of their income that year. Hohmann points out that Harris reported zero charitable giving in the first three years when she was attorney general, ramping up to the tens of thousands after she wed Emhoff in 2014.

In third to last place is Kirsten Gillibrand, who with her husband made $215,000 in 2018 and gave $3,750 to charity, or 1.7 percent of their income.

(2015 tax returns, the most recent available, show that Joe and Jill Biden gave $6,900 of their combined $392,000 income to charity, or about 1.8 percent. Memorably, tax returns released by the Bidens in 2008 showed that the couple had given an average of only $369 to charity a year for the previous 10 years.)

Amy Klobuchar and her husband just unseat Gillibrand, having given $6,600 of their $338,500 income to charity last year, or a little less than two percent of their income.


Bernie Sanders and Jane Sanders gave $19,000 of their $566,000 income to charity last year, or 3.4 percent of their income.

Jay Inslee and Trudi Inslee made a combined $203,000 in 2018, and gave away $8,295, or about four percent of their income.

The most giving (so far):

Coming out decisively as number one is Elizabeth Warren, who with her husband Bruce Mann gave $50,000 of their combined income of $906,000 to charity in 2018, or 5.5 percent of their income.

We’ll have to see Buttigieg, Booker, Biden, or Trump call for a reordering of this list in the coming weeks and months. Every one of them, for what it’s worth, comes in far under the ten percent mandated by Torah law.

There’s solidarity in that. But it’s worth noting that when Mitt Romney released his returns in the lead up to the 2012 election, he and Anne Romney were revealed to have given $4 million out of their $13.7 million income in 2011 to charity, or over 29 percent of their income that year.

In the same year, Hohmann notes, Barack and Michelle Obama gave away 22 percent of their combined income. So, it can be done.

Jenny Singer is the deputy life/features editor for the Forward. You can reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny


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