#UnravelTheSweater: Santorum’s Poor Record of Charitable Giving

Rick Santorum - Unravel the Sweater

Part 1 – Santorum’s Poor Record of Charitable Giving:

You’d think a conservative candidate for president would be fairly generous with their charitable giving. The conservative approach to helping the poor, after all, is to rely on private charities so we can keep the size of government small and not create welfare dependency. So why is it that Rick Santorum gave so little of his income to charity over the last couple years?

The statistics are startling: in 2008 Santorum donated just under $22,000 to charity, but purchased an Audi A6 for $42,950. Looking back further, CNN reported:

Santorum gave $81,500 to charity over the past four years, or 2.2% of the more than $3.6 million in total income he earned since leaving the Senate, the documents showed.

From 2007 to 2009, Santorum’s rate of charitable giving fluctuated between 2.03% and 2.67% of his earnings.

In 2010, the rate dropped to 1.76% of his $923,411 in income. That same year, President Obama gave 14.2% of his income to charity, while Mitt Romney donated 13.8% and Newt Gingrich gave 2.6%.

Let’s be clear: while it’s true Senator Santorum has more children than the average person, he’s also made nearly a million dollars a year for four years, and gave just over 2% to charity during this period (well short of the 1/10th associated with a traditional tithe). CNN notes as well that people of Senator Santorum’s wealth usually give approximately 3.4% of their income to charity, putting Santorum at approximately 50% below the average.

“His donation level is on the low side,” said Ken Berger, the president and CEO of Charity Navigator, who also noted that research suggests religious individuals donate more than the non-religious.

“When you put it in the context of people of faith, then it really is on the low side,” Berger said.

What’s worse is that Santorum’s actions differ substantially from what he advocates publicly:

The relatively low contribution level is also a bit puzzling for a senator who championed non-profits and charitable organizations while in office.

“We should be proactive in finding ways to more fully engage the American public in charitable giving,” Santorum said in a 2005 statement on the CARE Act, a bill he sponsored that sought to promote the interests of charities and provide incentives for Americans to donate.

Part 2 – Rick Santorum’s Poorly Managed Charity:


In addition, Rick Santorum founded a charity a number of years ago. See my post here regarding that charity’s very low percentage of contributions that actually made it to the poor.

CNN states on this topic:

Santorum has also come under fire for the giving practices of a charity called Operation Good Neighbor that he started more than a decade ago.

In his “founder’s letter,” Santorum wrote that one of the charity’s goals was to help “break the cycle of poverty that sours the lives of too many men, women and children in our nation.”

The group collected at least $2.3 million in contributions between 2001 and its termination in 2007, but only spent around 45% of total revenue on beneficiaries, according to IRS documents.

The rest went to fundraising, office space and personnel costs. In essence, the charity was spending more on itself than the people it was designed to help.

The charity, Berger said, lagged far below industry standards.

See this report in the American Prospector for more information about this charity. So who benefited most from this charity’s operations? Its staff. At whose expense? Donors who thought they were helping the poor. And who constituted the charity’s staff? Among others, Robert Bickhart, the charity’s Executive Director, who also happened to serve as Santorum’s campaign finance director, who received payments in the form of unspecified amounts of rent and some salary.

The Bigger Picture Coming into Focus

The thing that worries me most about this track record is the emerging picture that Rick Santorum is really all about number one. For starters, he has the habit of positioning himself and his friends to benefit from his position in government. In my prior article I discuss his PAC, which also had a very poor record of giving for its stated purpose (like the charity, well below typical amounts). A majority of the funds raised went to administrative expenses, which, I’d imagine, is likely expenses of Rick Santorum or his staff (many of the expenses were to fast food restaurants). If that’s true, essentially the charity and the PAC look like personal expense accounts for those involved. And then there’s the story of his seeking reimbursement from his state’s taxpayers for his kids’ education while living in another state. And there are other stories of Rick Santorum or his friends receiving seemingly special benefits, like his home refinance by a financial institution whose usual business is not mortgages but managing portfolios of wealthy clients, though the Santorums did not appear to meet the objective income criteria to be customers and did not have an investment portfolio.

Taken together, these start to paint a picture of a man reaping considerable personal rewards from time spent in the government, which frankly disturbs me. I don’t expect any of this is illegal, but it certainly seems improper to me. If this were offset by a track record of charitable giving, I could come to a different conclusion, but it really seems that Rick Santorum is feasting at the trough of government and all its excesses. It looks to me like he’s working the system to his best benefit, while not living what he preaches and not sharing with others. When I consider the millions of income he made after losing his re-election bid and having no significant other prior work experience, I see a man who’s benefiting greatly from his time in DC, but who is really not as generous as he expects others to be. He doesn’t seem to be asking what he can do for our country, but what the country can do for him. This bothers me greatly and is not the sort of inspiration I’d look for in my candidate for president.

Meanwhile Mitt Romney donates enough of his own income to eclipse the traditional 10% tithe, paying in 2010 seven times on a percentage basis that which Santorum paid (and, yes, he made more money, but he still paid over seven times on a percentage basis what co-millionaire Senator Santorum paid). Mitt donates all proceeds from his book to charity, took effectively no salary to run the Olympics (donating the $1.4 million he was to be paid to charity). While Santorum looks to me to be feeding at the government trough, Romney is giving away money at seven times Santorum’s rate. And they say Mitt is out of touch and doesn’t care for the poor. Hogwash.

As a result, to me in there’s no real comparison. Mitt walks the walk; Santorum is just talk.

For another excellent article on this topic, see my colleague Vic Lundquist’s post of a few days ago.


Please Check Out These Other “Threads” in the #UnravelTheSweater Series:

Unravel The Sweater - Rick Santorum

About Paul Johnson:

Paul Johnson is an attorney for venture capitalists and their portfolio companies by day, husband and father of three teenage boys by night. He’s an avid supporter of Mitt Romney for president and, as a graduate of Brigham Young University, a BYU football and basketball fan. Paul also enjoys competing in triathlons. Because he’s in the “Clydesdale” (over 200 lb.) class, he has even had podium finishes from time to time. Paul also has the distinction of being a big enough U2 fan to be willing to travel to Dublin to see them in their native environment.

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8 Responses to #UnravelTheSweater: Santorum’s Poor Record of Charitable Giving

  1. ccr says:

    The words “fraud”, “politician”, “corruption”, “dishonest” all come to mind.

    This guy is terribly lacking in character and definitely NOTHING we NEED/WANT in the WH!!

    Expose……..thanks for your efforts!!

  2. Santorum’s anemic charitable contributions by comparison to Gov. Romney is stark and is fact enough.

    Yesterday on one of the Sunday talk shows however, he had the gall to lecture the viewing audience about Gov. Romney’s economic plan, proposing changes to the tax code that would reduce deductions related to charitable giving.

    The interviewer missed a huge opportunity to nail Santorum on that. I would have said something like,

    “Well Mr. Santorum, under the current code that you think is much better, you only gave 1.8% of your income to charity! Do you even think that tax benefits to encourage charitable giving is even important?”

    Santorum is on his way out.

  3. ccr says:

    Vic………I’m sure hoping so!!

    I think there are MANY opportunities to “nail” Santorum on a variety of issues. Another debate could “finish” him off, but I think we’re done??

  4. I have no proof. I have been following him closely in his interviews and he comes off very strident and very polarizing. He will continue to get some play in the primaries because there are those on the far right that want someone with his focused social views.

    Remember, the vetting process by the media on Santorum has only just begun. There is still much that can be discovered about the guy.

    He cannot go around telling Americans that a JFK speech in 1960 made him want to “throw up.” He probably alienated about 15 million general election voters with that one alone!

  5. ccr says:

    I guess he’s going through all of this to increase his speaking fees, tv appearances, “lobbying” opportunities…..??

    The rest of us are serious about get this country on the right track…with Mitt!

    Santorum is proving himself to be “polarizing” for sure.

  6. Chris says:

    Yet, he has the money to sponsor a NASCAR and buy an expensive Audi. A car my family could never afford. Makes sense to me that his priorities would be his own self first.

  7. Alice says:

    Rick Santorum is robo-calling registered Democrats in Michigan with the hope they’ll help him in his fight to defeat Mitt Romney in Tuesday’s GOP primary.

  8. HarryFromMA says:

    JAN 29, 2012:
    “We want the activists in the party, the people who make up the backbone of the Republican Party, to have a say in who are nominee is, as opposed to a bunch of people who don’t even identify themselves as Republican picking our nominee.
    “Um, I think, ya know, that – I don’t like that.
    “I believe that, that, that states should only allow Republicans to vote in Republican primaries.
    “Why? Well, because it’s the Republican nomination, not the Independent nomination, or the Democrat nomination.”
    - Rick Santorum, Tele-Town Hall with Minnesota Voters, January 29, 2012

    FEB 2012:
    * Get articles on the robocall, the text of it (include it here), etc. Santorum’s weak defense, slam on Romney as “bully…whiner”, etc & list here.
    * Democrat/liberal OPERATION HILARITY to get Democrats/liberals to vote AGAINST Mitt BY voting FOR Santorum:

    ~ Dishonest Daily Kos encourages Democrats to vote for Santorum in open primary and caucus states
    “Daily Kos To Make Mischief In Republican Primary”
    “Operation Hilarity” encourages Democrats to vote for Santorum in open primary and caucus states. It’s what Limbaugh did for Hillary Clinton in 2008″
    Posted Feb 15, 2012 3:45pm EST
    http://www.buzzfeed.com/zekejmiller/daily-kos-to-make-mischief-in-republican-primary

    * Michigan union leaders are pushing to get Democrats/liberals to vote AGAINST Mitt BY voting FOR Santorum

    * Rick Santorum robocall asked get Democrats/liberals to vote AGAINST Mitt BY voting FOR Santorum

    ~ MIGHTY strange for Rick to change his mind so fully & quickly in LESS than ONE month!
    ~ Of course, with his past siding with unions over FedEx, maybe it isn’t too surprising?:
    “Gingrich slams Santorum as ‘big labor Republican’”
    By KEN THOMAS, Associated Press. February 27, 2012
    “NASHVILLE (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich on Monday slammed rival Rick Santorum as a “big labor Republican,” accusing him of siding with unions over Memphis-based FedEx when the Senate grappled with a labor dispute in the 1990s.”
    http://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2012/02/27/gingrich-wants-replacement-debate-on-health-care?s_cid=related-links:TOP

    As far as GOP nominees are concerned, the sideline media wants Santorum:

    “Dorothy Rabinowitz: Democrats Are Praying for a Santorum Nomination
    “His long record of statements on religious and social issues are of a sort that large sectors of the American public find unpalatable.”
    Wall Street Journal. Feb 24, 2012
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203960804577238990570535210.html
    Print:
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203960804577238990570535210.html?mod=googlenews_wsj#printMode

    Democrats Shake Up Michigan Primary, Exit Polls Show
    By Gary Langer. Feb 28, 2012
    http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/02/democrats-shake-up-michigan-primary-exit-polls-show/

    Mischief: Democratic Women Supported Santorum to Help Obama in Michigan
    By Z. Byron Wolf. Feb 29, 2012 3:13pm
    * EXCELLENT article! Interviews the Dem spoilers! Article & VIDEO!
    “Meet some of the voters behind “operation hilarity.” That’s the online code name for Democrats who supported Rick Santorum in the Michigan primary just to embarrass Mitt Romney.
    “You voted for Rick Santorum?” asked ABC’s Jonathan Karl of a group of Democratic women at Santorum’s primary night party in Novi, Michigan, Tuesday night.
    “Yes!,” said Dawn Gallup. “He’s the best chance of Michigan to get Barack Obama elected.”
    They didn’t quite make Rick Santorum the winner of total votes in Michigan on Tuesday, but the women we found – school teachers – were gleeful at the opportunity to help him. Santorum did split the delegates with Romney in Michigan. And Democrats from “operation hilarity” are a big reason why. Ten percent of the voters taking part in Michigan’s open primary were Democrats. More than half of them supported Rick Santorum.
    “In Michigan it seemed to be a movement – something to do if you’re a Democrat,” said Monica Harris, another Democrat who went to Santorum’s victory party with Gallup.
    “Just to mess with the Republicans?” asked Karl.
    “I think so,” she said, laughing.
    “It’s the American way, right?” said Gallup.
    Another woman said she didn’t vote because, she said, “I couldn’t pull the lever” for Santorum.”
    http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/02/mischief-democratic-women-supported-santorum-to-help-obama-in-michigan/

    Liberal Democrats for Santorum
    http://www.youtube.com. Uploaded by mittromney on Feb 29, 2012
    “Democrats voted in the Michigan primary because they know that Mitt Romney will be the stronger candidate in the general election. These voters did not vote for Rick Santorum, they voted for four more years of President Obama.”
    Dems say they are voting for Santorum to mess the GOP primaries & help elect Obama, and that “of course” Santorum is a weaker candidate than Mitt. This is a clip from CNN news in a Romney ad. Almost all CNN news clip w/interviews!:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P36GyQt4AgM&feature=relmfu

    - MEDIA WANTS SANTORUM AS GOP NOMINEE?:
    “Dorothy Rabinowitz: Democrats Are Praying for a Santorum Nomination”
    His long record of statements on religious and social issues are of a sort that large sectors of the American public find unpalatable.
    Wall Street Journal. Feb 24, 2012
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203960804577238990570535210