Beto O’Rourke defends paltry charitable contributions

When Beto O’Rourke released his tax returns this week, one of the most surprising details was how little he and his wife Amy have given to charity — just $1,166 in 2017, or about 0.3% of their income for the year.

When asked by a voter about his paltry giving during a campaign stop in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Tuesday, O’Rourke replied that his public service is the real contribution.

“I’ve served in public office since 2005, I do my best to contribute to the success of my community, of my state, and now of my country,” O’Rourke said. “There are ways that I do this that are immeasurable and there are ways that I do this that are measurable. There are charities that we donate to that we’ve recorded and itemized, others that we’ve donated to that we have not.”

He added: “But I’ll tell you I’m doing everything I can right now, 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 meet this moment of truth with everything that we’ve got.”

O’Rourke reiterated the same message on Wednesday in northern Virginia, citing his wife and daughter’s work at a migrant shelter.

“Amy and Molly are serving food tonight at an Annunciation House shelter,” O’Rourke said. “That’s where I spent my Christmas Eve in El Paso.”

He went on: “I try to contribute and serve in every way that I can.”

The O’Rourkes reported an adjusted gross income of $366,455 in 2017, the most recent year made available by the campaign, and gave only $1,166 to charity. The two years before, the couple gave even less: $857 in 2016 and $867 in 2015.

Over the ten years of tax returns released by O’Rourke, only one year showed giving that rose above $2,000. That was 2013 when the O’Rourke’s gave $12,900 to a variety of charities. With an adjusted gross income of $301,092 that year, the larger gift boosted the percentage donated to nearly 4.3% of their income. But none of the other years, going back to 2008, show charitable giving over 1% of their income.

Americans on average donate about 2% of their income to charity. Studies have shown Republicans donate more in raw dollars, but the poor donate a larger percentage of their income.

The average amount reported as a charitable contribution in 2017 for the O’Rourke’s income bracket — an adjusted gross income of over $250,0000 — is $22,484, according to the IRS.

In his remarks, O’Rourke said that he didn’t list all of his charitable giving on his tax return — something that filers only need to do if they’re looking for a deduction.

“For us, it wasn’t important to itemize or to take the deductions we wanted to make contributions to causes and charities and to be people that we believed in that we thought could be helpful,” he said Wednesday. “You know, again, never thought I’d be publishing 10 years of my tax returns, which we just did two days ago, but that’s by and large why.”

His recorded giving has been largely centered in El Paso. The El Paso Community Foundation, the El Paso Children’s Hospital and other charities related to helping children, migrants and the poor have been recipients of their charitable gifts, according to the tax returns going back to 2008.

Several of O’Rourke’s Democratic counterparts have been more generous, according to their tax returns.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and his wife Jane gave about 3% of their income to charity the past two years, according to his tax returns. Both in 2018 when they had an adjusted gross income of $561,293 and donated $18,950 to charity, and in 2017 when they earned $1,131,925 and gave $36,300 to charity.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s 2018 tax returns showed she and her husband Bruce Mann donated $50,128 to charity. Their adjusted gross income was $846,394 and their donation amounted to 6% of their income.

It’s not clear how President Donald Trump measures up, since he hasn’t released his personal tax records, in a break from past precedent set by other presidential candidates.

Records for his personal charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, are publicly available for past years. In December, the foundation agreed to dissolve under judicial supervision amid an ongoing lawsuit filed by New York state concerning its finances.

A CNN review in 2016 showed that the last personal contribution to the charity from the President came in 2008. The President’s real estate company donated more than half a million dollars in 2017, the only contribution that year.

CNN’s Devon Sayers, Nick Neville, DJ Judd and Julie Gallagher contributed to this report.