Beto O’Rourke Thinks His “Immeasurable” Public Service Was Worth a Lot More Than Just Giving to Charity

His charitable deductions were not…generous.

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke addresses a party at a hotel in Richmond, Virginia. Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch/AP

At a recent campaign stop at the University of Virginia, a student asked former Texas congressman and 2020 Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke about his recently released his tax returns and the paltry deduction he claimed for charitable contributions. Why did O’Rourke give so little to charity compared to the student’s sister, a recent college graduate who makes seven times less than he did? 

“I do my best to contribute to the success of my community, of my state, and now of my country,” O’Rourke said, making it clear that the little money he’s given to charity in recent years paled in comparison to his commitment to public service for the last 14 years. “There are ways that I do this that are immeasurable and there are ways that I do this that are measurable. There are charities that we donate to that we’ve recorded and itemized, others that we’ve donated to that we have not.”

Earlier this week, O’Rourke joined the roster of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates who have released their tax returns while demanding that President Donald Trump do the same. Beyond providing insights into each candidate’s wealth—notably, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who often calls for America’s wealthiest to pay their fair share, was revealed to be a millionaire after his best-selling books— the tax returns offer a sense of just how generous candidates have been, though not specifically to whom.

Citing 2018 returns, CNN noted that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and her husband gave $50,128 to charity, six percent of her income, while Sanders and his wife donated $18,950 in 2018. Of the major candidates who have released tax returns, Warren claimed the biggest charitable donations while others like Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) gave less than 2 percent of their incomes to charity, the Washington Post reported. In comparison, Americans donate on average 2 percent of their income to charity.

And O’Rourke? In 2017, the most recent year provided by the campaign, the O’Rourke’s donated  $1,667 or .3 percent of his and his wife’s gross income of $366,455.

CNN noted that there was just one year when the  O’Rourke’s were a bit more generous; in 2013 they donated gave $12,900. But what’s money in comparison to good works? At another campaign stop in northern Virginia, O’Rourke explained that his family had volunteered at a migrant shelter in Texas, telling supporters that he tries to “to contribute and serve in every way that I can.”

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate