Beto O’Rourke Defends Charity Giving After Tax Returns Show Few Donations

(Bloomberg) -- Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke defended the level of charitable donations listed on his recently released tax returns, saying he has donated time and given small amounts to “so many” organizations that it wasn’t worth keeping track for the tax break.

O’Rourke is on a campaign swing through Virginia, and one of the first audience questions he faced at a Charlottesville event was about the charitable giving included in tax documents he made public Monday. He suggested that the time he spends on public service, including running for office, is a contribution “to the success of my community, my state and now of my country.”

Speaking to reporters Wednesday in Fredericksburg, O’Rourke said he and his wife, Amy, “do our best to do our part both in the donations we itemize on our tax returns and donations we have made that aren’t itemized both in our actions and in serving with non-profits in El Paso.”

O’Rourke reported earning more than $370,000 in 2017 from salaries, investments and other income, according to his tax returns. The former Texas Congressman and his wife donated $1,166 -- about 0.3 percent of their total income -- that year. They gave $857 to charity in 2016, including $538 to Annunciation House in El Paso, which assists the poor and migrants.

The latest year in which they gave more than $10,000 was in 2013, when they gave $12,900.

Deductions

Some donations weren’t reported “because it wasn’t important for us to take the deduction,” O’Rourke said. “I never thought it would be an issue because I never expected to release my taxes because I never thought I’d be running for president.”

However, the returns do show that they mistakenly took a medical expense deduction in 2013 and 2014, claiming about $15,700 in write-offs that weren’t allowed. The law changed in 2013 regarding the age and income requirements to qualify for the tax break.

The 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls that have released their tax returns have wide ranges of income and charitable giving, though none have reported donations that make up a significant portion of their income.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand reported total income of $214,753 and $3,750 worth of charitable gifts in 2018. Senator Bernie Sanders gave $18,950 to charity in cash and other gifts in 2018, on an income of $566,421. He reported income topping $1 million the previous two years. Senator Kamala Harris reported more than $2 million in income last year -- the most for any 2020 Democratic hopeful who has released his or her tax returns -- gave $27,000 to charity.

O’Rourke, 46, is running with an appeal to progressive voters while steering clear of the most left-wing ideas that are increasingly accepted in the party. He has faced criticism about his lack of policy specifics, compared to some of his rivals.

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