Sunday, April 6, 2008

The five percent rule

As members of the media digested the stunning numbers of the Clintons' tax returns, The New York Times designated a reporter or two to consider how the Clintons' philanthropy stacks up against their instruction on it.

Mr. Clinton last year earned $6.3 million from “Giving,” a book on philanthropy, and reported giving $1 million of that to charity.
(Let's stop right there for a minute. Wouldn't you expect that Clinton would "give" away the proceeds of a book about -- giving? Maybe he should add a subtitle: "Giving ... a fraction.")

In the book, Mr. Clinton espouses his own formula for charitable donations, recommending that people give away 5 percent of their income to charitable causes. “If giving by the wealthiest Americans even approached these levels,” he wrote, “I’m convinced it would spark an enormous outpouring of contributions from Americans of more modest means.”

The pace of the Clintons’ own charitable giving, which peaked last year at $3 million, has not always kept up with their income, and by at least one measure, has sometimes fallen short of the spirit of the 5 percent goal, which is to get money into the hands of charities that do good works.

In 2002, for instance, they reported income totaling $9.5 million and $115,000 in gifts to charity. In other years, they have given much larger amounts to their family foundation, but it has yet to disburse all of the money.

The Clintons took a tax deduction in 2004 for $2.5 million in charitable gifts, $2 million of which went to their family foundation, which as a tax-exempt nonprofit is considered a charity under the tax code. That same year, the foundation gave away just $221,000 to charitable groups, according to its tax return.

A representative of the Clintons said that when they and their foundation filed their 2007 tax returns, the records would show that all of the $3 million they gave to the foundation last year had been passed on to other charities. That will account for more than half of all the charitable donations that the foundation has made since 2001, according to a review of its tax returns.
There's nothing like writing a book wherein you make suggestions for everyone else to follow, ignoring your own suggestion, diverting the amount you do donate to a foundation you control, then taking a tax break on it.

Ah, the Clintons. No one quite does it like they do.