Catholic Presidential Candidates Bringing up the Rear in Charitable Contributions


American Catholics, most studies suggest, give significantly less to charity than our Protestant (and for that matter, Mormon) counterparts. If their 2010 tax returns are any guide, it seems this holds true in the subset of Americans running for president as well. Protestant Barack Obama and Mormon Mitt Romney each gave more than 13% of their income to charity, while Catholics Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum gave less than 3%. (Ron Paul has not publicly released his information.)

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Stanley Kopacz
6 years 10 months ago
The point about Obama's ramp up in giving was made in the referenced article.  The discriminator here was about cheapo catholics versus protestants.  At any rate, it shows what small hearts our politicians have (Romney is required to tithe).  Perhaps it's a prerequisite for being a political animal.  Certainly, it explains why almost all our representatives are effectively right wing.
Vince Killoran
6 years 10 months ago
I think it's worth exploring why Catholics don't donate as much to their parishes as Protestants but don't understand why particular political figures should come under scrutiny for such a private matter.  Cosgroovey keep beating the drum about Biden's small dollar contributions although he's pleased to excuse all GOPs for their pitiful records. It's all very weak,  tiresome, and not useful to building up our country.

Candidates should be called out for breaking the law but let's keep our eyes on economic justice.
Marie Rehbein
6 years 10 months ago
It's really dumb to judge someone's charitability by what he deducts on his income taxes.  It's entirely possible that people in lower income brackets just give money without keeping track of it since the amount is probably somewhat low and not so likely to make a difference to the amount of tax they owe, though it may be a larger percentage of their income than some of those who are rich and take the deduction.  I'm pretty sure that when someone starts raking in millions of dollars a year, his accountant makes a point of insisting on good documentation of charitable donations.  Also, like David says, charity can take other forms like time and talent.  I would be inclined to say, too, that charitability, if it were to be judged at all, would be judged more favorably the less credit one takes for it.
J Cosgrove
6 years 10 months ago

Interesting rhetorical strategy.  I wonder what the reason for it is.  What intellectual level would you associate such a strategy?

''keep beating the drum about Biden's small dollar contributions ''

Both Obama and Biden are cheapskates in terms of charitable giving.  But the finger here was pointed at Santorum and Gingrich and using Obama as an exemplar of Protestant giving which was absurd given his history. I was just moving the finger around and wondering why Mr. Sinyai was so selective in his finger pointing.

Oh and as for ''beating the drum'', I did mention before about Biden's lack of charitable giving but beating the drum is not an accurate analogy.  Why would you use it?  What constitutes ''beating the drum.''  One time I did mention Biden's charitable giving, it was in connection to what Biden thought important in his life.  If his faith was important to him do you think he would spend about $350 a year giving to charity.  Last time I looked the Catholic Church counted as a charity.  Maybe I used it some other place because his hypocrisy is well known.

''although he's pleased to excuse all GOPs for their pitiful records.''  

What evidence do you have for that statement.  It sounds like a personal attack which is not uncommon around here when you do not like the facts.  Where did I excuse anyone?  Santorum has 7 children and I am sure they are expensive.  He is also running for president and that is expensive too.  Gingrich has no such obligations to children but did give $90,000 to charity.  Maybe not enough but it is not chump change and if it was increased recently to look good for politics then he should be called on it just as Obama's false increases are nothing more than trying to look good.  However, more effort should be focused on just what all the Gingrich organizations do and let the chips fall where they may.

I am not ready to excuse anyone but we have a president that has been excused of lots of things and I find the double standard interesting.
Amy Ho-Ohn
6 years 10 months ago
It is true that Obama has historically given very little to "charity." It is also true that the 2010 cut-off looks suspiciously like it was chosen to make him look good.

But there is no denying that Catholics give less to the Church than most religious people give to their churches. The NYT has a graphic with a thoroughly embarrassing bar chart here:  Mormons come in first at 5.6% and we're down at the bottom at 0.7%.

On the other hand, the bar chart does not have a bar for secular people. (I would consider Obama basically a secular indifferentist, which in my book is not all that bad a thing to be.) Previous studies suggest rich secularists give even less than Catholics and mostly to things which only benefit other rich secularists (self-proclaimed "elite" universities, for example.)
Vince Killoran
6 years 10 months ago

Lighten up Cosgrove-there are worst things that being called "groovy" but, since it bothers you, I'll stop.

I still  don't follow your contortions in defending Santorium and Gingrich's parsimony. Our VP might have given the least (as you have brought to our attention many times) but, of all the politicians under consideration, he is a person of fairly modest means.

In any case, as Catholics we know that there are spritual and corporal acts of mercy and, so, charitable giving doesn't begin to cover what is expected of us.
J Cosgrove
6 years 10 months ago
''but, since it bothers you, I'll stop.''

It doesn't bother me.  I just find it amusing and juvenile and prefer not to deal with such behavior and was just wondering why you chose to use it?  I can't imagine it was meant to be neutral or a compliment.  But then again, I am often wrong.

''I still  don't follow your contortions in defending Santorium and Gingrich's parsimony. Our VP might have given the least (as you have brought to our attention many times) but, of all the politicians under consideration, he is a person of fairly modest means.''

A few things, what do you mean by many? Are you counting something?  ''contortions''?  Why use this word? 

I am not a big fan of either Santorum or Gingrich but one gave $19 k to charity and the other gave $80 k to charity.  That is not parsimony.  It is not a high percentage to some but how did they use the rest of their money?  We do not know from anything presented here.  Was it frivolous? overly extravagant?  And as far as Obama who I pointed out did not give much to chairty there could be other factors.  Maybe he was saving his money for something and that is why his donations were so low.  We don't know but he certainly cannot be used as an example of Protestant generosity. 

An alum from my graduate school just gave $150 million dollars to the school.  Another gave $10 million to Notre Dame where he was an undergraduate.  So in certain years charitable giving can vary widely from individual to individual. 

This OP was a hit job and that should be pointed out.  It is interesting to watch the gyrations/contortions on this blog to make certain people look bad.  That is where the comments about contortions should have been directed.

''In any case, as Catholics we know that there are spritual and corporal acts of mercy and, so, charitable giving doesn't begin to cover what is expected of us.''

Then I suggest you direct your comments toward Mr. Sinyai and as some indicated there are lots of ways people use their time as well as their money.  Our parish just had its annual volunteers party and there were over a hundred there who do something for the parish on an ongoing basis.  None of it shows up on a schedule A.  A lot of parents still send their kids to Catholic schools and that money does not get counted in charitable donations.
6 years 10 months ago
Well, both Catholics are Republicans. That party has been preaching that you can spend your money better than the government. The reasoning transfers easily to any large organization that might look like the government. That theory could only be tested in the unlikely event that a Democrat could be found to run for president.

Deeper than "you can spend it better" is another Republican talking point, that spending should be seen as investing. So it's an investment decision whether I want a beer with my dinner tonight or ought to toss the money into the collection basket tomorrow. Where will I get the better return?

(As an usher I notice turnout is always up on Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday and other days when we are giving something tangible in return for the congregation's investment in its church. I cannot find New Deal roots for that.)
J Cosgrove
6 years 10 months ago
Is this another liberal hit piece?  It seems to be.  I suggest that Mr.  Sinyai do some more research and ask questions before trying to make certain people look bad.

First, Obama was a notorious low donator to charity until it became expedient to do so.  Here are the income and donations by year for Obama from 2000-2006

2000 - $240K - $2.4k - 1.0% given to charity
2001 - $273K - $1.5k - 0.5% given to charity
2002 - $259K - $1.1k - 0.4% given to charity
2003 - $238K - $3.4k - 1.4% given to charity
2004 - $207K - $2.5k - 1.2% given to charity
2005 - $1655K - $77.3k - 4.7% given to charity
2006 - $983K - $60.3k - 6.1% given to charity

In 2005 his book deals started to roll in and some of the money went to charity, probably knowing that his taxes would be looked at so it may have been nothing more than a pr investment.  His true behavior can be seen in 2000-2004 where he and Michele gave about $10K on $1.2 million.  Not quite in Joe Biden territory but quite stingy.

Obama started making millions off his book deals and actually signed one as he entered the White House, a first for a sitting president.  These book deals provided the charitable contributions he then gave and he gave the Nobel prize to charity.  Also as a sitting president he has essentially no expenses while living a comfortable life style and will get his $100 million payout when he leaves office as did Clinton and Gore.

Did anyone check Biden's charitable giving?  He was setting records for low amounts.  If Joe was going to Mass on Sunday he was giving less that a $5 bill to the collection.  A priest told us a joke one Sunday, that one dollar bills are still around because they are needed for collections at Catholic churchs.

Also Santorum and Gingrich may be using a lot of their money to help fund their presidential runs.  Maybe someone has some information on that as not all expensives are supported by donations.
Vince Killoran
6 years 10 months ago
Amusing & juvinile. . .maybe. I just get tired of the frequent putdowns such as  "nonsense" when someone shares their position so I was trying to shift the tone.

My original comment was that we not focus on individual politicians' dollar donations. As usual, you took Clayton Sinyai's apolitical posting and made it a partisan matter.

BTW, our parish has an annual "volunteers party" as well and I don't know why we do: the spiritual and corporal acts of mercy should be a part of our lives that don't entail a luncheon and pat on the back.
C Walter Mattingly
6 years 9 months ago
Vince (9),
You've confused me with JR. I was the one who found it remarkable that the Catholic Biden, now VP Biden, gave $367, or .13 of 1% of his 300K income to charity in 2005, while nasty ole VP Cheney gave over $6 million of his $9 million earnings to charity the same year. And that was about what Biden gave the previous two years as well. Less than your average assistant fast food manager. And yes, Biden is a Catholic to boot. If Santorum and Gingrich gave 2.8% of their incomes, that would be 20 times more than Biden gave. And more than Obama gave around that year as well. As studies have proven, liberals drive down percentages of charitable donations across the board, whether it's money or blood donations, what have you.
Don't believe it? Check liberal humanitarian Nicolas Kristof's  NYTimes article dated 12/08, Bleeding Heart Tightwads, to get a clear, documented picture of the typical liberal's hypocrisy when it comes to him opening his wallet.  
But Romney is the generous one here, giving 16% of his income to charity. While some don't tithe as they should, Romney gave 60% more than recommended by his church. Romney and Cheney are good examples of generosity in personal giving when the facts rather than the hope and hype are considered. It's most likely that consevatives think they are responsible for giving to others, while liberals may think that is someone else's job-the government, the wealthy, etc-just not theirs.
Vince Killoran
6 years 9 months ago
Dear Cwalterroy:

Thanks for repeating your original points but it wasn't necessary.  What response(s) do you have for my reply above?
Vince Killoran
6 years 9 months ago
I fail to see how making this so intensely partisan as Walter & others do "is a part of an attempt to move our dialogue here to a more productive place." My argument was that focusing on the specific dollar amount candidates donate is not a good way to assess candidates, parties, or the direction in which the country needs to move. More importantly this focus doesn't seem to fit the Catholic need to perform corporal and spritiual works of mercy. (A friend who works at a Delaware hospital told me years ago that Senator Biden would made quiet visits to the hospital to see patients).  

I think it bothers  conservative bloggers that AMERICA tends to offer a liberal Catholic perspective. They churn out the "balance fallacy" and seem to insist that every post on IAT is a political hatchet job. 
C Walter Mattingly
6 years 9 months ago
Good, Vince.
I don't think any of these candidates or present office holders made major issues out of their contributions, large or small, it's just that revealing tax returns is part of the political process for those running for certain offices.
My response is I don't think the posting was apolitical based on my history of reading here. I think it is a legitimate posting, but doubt it would have appeared here had it been Obama and Biden, who were not so highlighted to their disadvantage last time around. Perhaps coincidental, but I perceive a pattern of a point of view here that leads me to suspect Obama and Biden were given a free ride on that. 
Your other point that we all should be responding to charitable works of mercy more from the heart. You go on to wonder why special dinners are sponsored to highlite the importance of charitable giving and what has been done over the years. 
Agreed. I will get to that. You will see why in a moment, meanwhile, note that the study quoted also dealt with acts we would call corporal works of mercy: blood donations, working at food banks and shelters, visiting the sick, and so forth, and the same split holds true. To be honest, thge study's conclusions really stunned me. But here is the crux: the authors of the study pointed out that the single most important issue of who is or isn't generous with their resources of money and time devoted to corporal works of mercy are those who regularly attend churches. And they were more generous than those who didn't attend church regularly even when their church donations and time at services were removed from consideration. Maybe that relates to your question, why do people need such visible reinforcements such as recognition dinners, etc, to motivate them? Probably because we are more imperfect than perfect, and that we are social animals who need visible, communal confirmation.  I would speculate, more the Peter types constantly falling back and falling asleep than the indomitable Ignatius or Mother Teresa types. That's why we need church so much, that those who develp their own private spirituality may not have the same impact of caritas that those who are part of a faith community do.
The reason I have mentioned and repeated these numbers on charitable giving and works is not to denigrate any liberal or anyone else. Really. It is a part of an attempt to move our dialogue here to a more productive place. We can drop the conservatives don't care about the poor; that has proven false. The real issue, the productive issue, is what do we do to improve the lot of all Americans, especially the most needy? In my view it is to compose solutions that address the cause, that don't merely assuage symptoms and, too often, encourage more of the undesired causal activity. That is where we can work together, in subsidiarity. I believe that can be done.


The latest from america

The act of planting a garden is the easier part: It’s the small daily acts of caring over the long haul that can be a challenge.
Elizabeth Kirkland CahillDecember 15, 2018
So what is it about these cheesy, mass-produced films that make them so irresistible?
Colleen DulleDecember 14, 2018
Last year, 'America' published “An (unconventional) Advent Playlist.” This is my (much more conventional) Advent playlist.
Molly MattinglyDecember 14, 2018
Jeff Daniels in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ (photo: Julieta Cervantes)
Two starry new Broadway productions have no qualms about speaking their mind.
Rob Weinert-KendtDecember 14, 2018