When Mitt Romney released his 2010 tax returns on Tuesday, the one number that probably stood out to many Americans wasn’t his 14% effective tax rate or his $20 million-plus annual income. It was the $7 million he gave to charity over the past two years, including some $4.1 million to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).
Where does that money go? In addition to donating to his family’s Tyler Foundation, Romney does his duty as an active LDS member. The Mormon church requires its members to tithe 10% of their income, and Romney’s contributions match that responsibility.
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Designed to follow the biblical mandate to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, the Mormon tithing system supports a giant welfare infrastructure. In addition to financing temple construction and missionary programs, tithing supports more than 300 employment-resource centers and 80 family-services offices around the world. The church employs some 8,500 missionaries who teach English, give agricultural aid, provide medical practices and distribute clothing. It even stores a three-to-six-month food supply so its members won’t go hungry in the event of a disaster, and most families forgo two consecutive meals a month to give money as a “fast offering” for the poor. Local bishops — a position Romney once held — work with members of their local church wards to overcome economic hardships, and are even empowered to pay a family’s mortgage in the hardest of times.
Structured or not, these donations set Romney apart from his political colleagues. In 2010, Romney gave away 16% of his income while Newt Gingrich’s returns show he gave only 2.6%. The portion Gingrich donated to his Washington, D.C., home church, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, was even smaller — 0.3%, or $9,540. Because the Gingrichs’ also reported an earned income of $5,918 from the National Shrine — Callista sings as an alto in the church’s professional choir, which pays $80 per mass and rehearsal — so the net balance of their contributions sinks below $4,000. The rest of Gingrich’s charitable donations went to unspecified cash contributions through the Gingrichs’ businesses, some $68,500, and to miscellaneous donations, near $3,100. The Obamas, meanwhile, gave 14% of their income to a total of 36 different charities in 2010. Much of that went to the Fisher House Foundation, a charity that works with veterans, and smaller amounts went to the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund and the Boys & Girls Club of America. A religious body was not listed on their returns, but the Obamas have not become members of a church while living in Washington.
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In Monday’s debate, Romney said he is “proud of the fact that I pay a lot of taxes.” Though he’s at times reluctant to speak publicly about his Mormon faith, his charitable giving, half of which goes to the socially active LDS church, is something to be proud of as well.