Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman donated 3 percent of his income to charity on average over a ten-year period, according to articles in the Washington Post and New York Times.
In 1990, the senator and his wife, Hadassah, reported an income of $103,492 and gave $2,932 (less than 3 percent) to charity.
In 1999, they reported an income of $350,119 and gave $13,804 (less than 4 percent) to charity.
Unlike Lieberman, Republican vice-presidential nominee Richard Cheney released only partial returns.
In 1999, Cheney reported an income of $4,423,289 and gave “just over 1 percent” to charity, according to the Washington Post.
Cheney said his level of charitable giving was “appropriate” and “a private matter,” according to a September Associated Press article.
The national average of giving to charity is “roughly two percent of income,” according to a Washington Post story, citing the Internal Revenue Service. A New York Times article read “those with incomes of $1 million or more gave an average of 4.5 percent” to charity.
BCE has been unable to secure the 1999 figures for Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore and Republican presidential candidate George Bush.
BCE reported in a February opinion editorial in the Tennessean that the Bushes gave over 7 percent to charity in 1997 and less than two percent in 1998, when they had a taxable income of $18.4 million. BCE also reported the Gores gave only $353 to charity in 1997 and nearly 7 percent in 1998.
Baptists and other Christian denominations have long taught the biblical practice of the tithe, which calls for believers to give 10 percent of their income of charity. While many Christians do not tithe, a significant number do. And they are the financial backbone of churches and religious organizations.
The relatively low level of charitable giving among presidential and vice presidential candidates raises some painful questions for their supporters to answer. It also affords an opportunity for congregational leaders to explore the intersection of religion and politics.
Consider these four questions:
First, why do those to whom much has been given give so little?
Second, what does their giving say about their moral character? A central moral quality in the biblical witness is charity and mercy. With both campaigns vying for the nation’s moral mantle, candidates should be expected to explain what they consider an appropriate level of generosity and why.
Third, is their level of charitable giving a more accurate reflection of their confidence in the non-profit sector than their speeches about faith-based solutions to social problems? Are they advocating one thing and practicing another?
Fourth, does their own charitable practice undermine their future calls for acts of generosity? Will Americans increase their charitable support when they come to realize the hollowness of their nation’s leader?
Robert Parham is BCE’s executive director.
Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.