Mitt Romney's charitableness largely ignored

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 3:14 PM

Jay Ambrose

Mitt Romney has released his 2011 tax returns, demonstrating several things: how the left always overreaches, the bias of some news media and the truth of a book six years back that said it’s not liberals who best illustrate compassion. It’s conservatives. Though they make less money than liberals, they give more to charity, and here is something else: They volunteer more of their time.

We have all kinds of evidence of Romney’s fervent volunteer work, and now we have reaffirmation of his charitable giving. He donated $4 million last year, more than 29 percent of his income, which easily beats the $353 former Vice President Al Gore once gave with an income of $197,729, the 0.1 percent Vice President Joe Biden averaged over a decade or the two years Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) coughed up absolutely nothing.

These three are among those Democrats whose hearts bleed profusely in public, even as their wallets show restraint in private. To liberals, benevolence is the government coercing others to fork over taxes for programs often badly in need of reform. People who believe least in redistributionist enthusiasms or the relative effectiveness of much that’s called welfare give 30 percent more on average than the left to good causes, according to "Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism," a 2006 book by Arthur C Brooks, who was then a professor.

You might think that news outlets, in reporting on the Romney tax returns, would emphasize the charitable giving. You might suppose they would treat it as less than a failing that Romney did not take a deduction for his donations. You might think liberal commentators would have given up their birther-style, paranoid suspicions after Romney also released a PricewaterhouseCoopers report showing he has been paying taxes over the years, despite infamies to the contrary.

Instead, most of what I read emphasized the low 14 percent federal tax rate he paid and cast his refusal to take deductions in a negative light, making it seem a devious way of making his tax rate higher and therefore more palatable to the public. Some newspaper and magazine columnists and the usual dummy blog sites fretted that he was still hiding something.

Let’s note in response that much of Romney’s income is from capital gains that are taxed at low rates to spur investments and generate economic growth, benefitting everyone. Capital gains is also a means of taxing corporate income twice, which means people like Romney are actually paying far more than their tax forms indicate. And by the way, more than half of Americans -- not just the rich -- have stock investments in search of those gains.

Romney did not set the capital gains rate, and to hold him responsible for it is as ridiculous as it would be to suppose liberal commentators would have been more understanding if Romney had taken the charitable tax deductions.

If they had any balance in their thought processes, they would have noted that his charitable giving combines with his taxes to add up to 43 percent taken out of his total income. While it is true that he once said no one should pay more than is legally owed in taxes, his doing so is hardly an unforgivable lapse. Compare his refusal to take all possible deductions to Bill Clinton’s claiming deductions for giving used underwear to charity when governor of Arkansas.

Now tell me which is most admirable.

If Romney did release still more tax returns, you would then get still more unjustifiable screeches better aimed at liberal politicians working feverishly to spend your money much more generously than their own.

Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. Email

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