Yesterday the news was full of accounts of the Clintons’ 2000-2006 tax returns. At the top of the stories reporting the Clintons’ total income of $109 million over the past eight years — as in the “deep background” report by Andrea Mitchell and the NBC investigative unit — is their $10 million in contributions to charity. The stories appear to be based in large part on the summary provided by the Clinton campaign, rather than on the returns themselves.
Here is the summary’s description of the Clintons’ charitable contributions:
CHARITABLE CONTRIBUTIONS: $10,256,741
The Clintons donated $10,256,741 to charity – 9.5% of their adjusted gross income. According to the most recent data available from the IRS, in 2005 taxpayers earning $10,000,000 or more contributed 3.1% of their adjusted gross income in cash contributions to charity. Information about the Clinton Family Foundation, including a list of charities to which the Clintons contributed through the Foundation, is available online in the Foundation’s publicly available tax returns (www.foundationcenter.org).
The summary did not directly state what one could reasonably infer. The Clintons’ charitable contributions went to the William J. Clinton Foundation [see correction below]. Today’s New York Times story on the tax returns puts the relevant information near the top of the story, in the third paragraph:
The contributions went to a family foundation run by the Clintons that has given away only about half of the money they put into it, and most of that was last year, after Mrs. Clinton declared her candidacy.
With the Clintons there is always a wrinkle. I’m inclined to say that contributions to the William J. Clinton Foundation are to charity as military music is to music. But I don’t know if that’s fair. The foundation’s “mission” is not exactly inspirational:
The mission of the William J. Clinton Foundation is to strengthen the capacity of people in the United States and throughout the world to meet the challenges of global interdependence.
A few years back, John and I took a look at George Bush’s tax return for 1991. The return had been used with gross dishonesty by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters Donald Barlett and James Steele in their book America: Who Really Pays the Taxes?. Unfortunately, in their 350-page book, Barlett and Steele never did get around to disclosing who really pays the taxes.
Barlett and Steele implied that President Bush was a malefactor of tax avoidance in 1991. We found that President and Mrs. Bush had donated $818,803 to charity, or 62 per cent of their income in 1991. The amount represented nearly all the royalties on Millie’s Book and exceeded what the Bushes could take as a charitable deduction, if I remember correctly. The Bushes paid 47 percent of their remaining income in taxes.
In 1991 the Bushes contributed to 49 different charities, everything from Ducks Unlimited to the United Negro College Fund. But the main beneficiary of their charity was the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, which received $789,176. Mrs. Bush’s foundation is undoubtedly the real deal, much like the lady herself. The foundation is devoted to the cause she made her passion. In the case of Bill Clinton, it would be harsh to say that the William J. Clinton Foundation is probably also devoted to the cause he made his passion.
CORRECTION: In the post above I err in attributing the Clintons’ donations to the William J. Clinton Foundation. As the Times correctly reports and as the Clinton campaign states in the quotes included in the post, the donations were rather to the Clinton Family Foundation. The foundation’s tax returns are available at the link. The beneficiaries are mainly churches, universities, medical research, and a variety of other charities. I regret the error.
JOHN adds: I wouldn’t apologize too profusely, Scott. I randomly checked 2005, when the Clintons reported adjusted gross income in excess of $18,000,000. In 2005, the Clinton Family Foundation ended the year with assets of nearly $4 million, but distributed only $549,000, much of it to charities having nothing to do with poverty. So in 2005, 3 percent of the Clintons’ income went to charity, maybe 1.5 percent, tops, to combat poverty. Not very impressive.