With the release of Mitt Romney's tax records on Tuesday, the world now knows what was previously known only by a select few: Mitt and Ann Romney pay 10 percent of their income in tithing to their faith.
Traditionally, tithing records are viewed as a confidential matter between members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the lay leader of their church congregation, but for the Romneys in the midst of a presidential campaign, those charitable donations are now a matter of public record.
And a matter for possible misunderstanding. The Romneys, as is common among LDS Church members and in all kinds of American charitable giving, made many of their donations to their faith through appreciated stock, according to the tax return for 2010 Romney released today and his estimated taxes for 2011.
Last week ABC News distorted the way Mormon tithing traditionally is paid by LDS Church members by reporting that Romney "carved his church a slice of several of (Bain Capital's) most lucrative business deals, securities records show, providing it with millions of dollars worth of stock in some of Bain Capital's most well-known holdings," including Burger King, Domino's Pizza, electronics manufacturer DDi, phosphates company Innophos Holdings and Marquee Holdings, the parent company to AMC Theaters.
Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said there was no slice-carving going on, nor was there anything surreptitious in the transaction. Romney simply followed long-established methods of donating shares of stock to the LDS Church as part of his annual tithe, much the way many philanthropists donate to charities and institutions.
"Mitt Romney has publicly stated that he regularly tithes to his church," Saul said. "Some of those church contributions have come through the Tyler Foundation (Romney's family charity). Others have been donations of stock through Bain. Any shares donated by Mitt Romney are personal shares owned by him."
At least one blogger, Stu Burguiere of The Blaze, made light of ABC's breathless approach to the story. "Mitt Romney accused of blatant tithing!" Burguiere's headline said, following with: "How dare he? SCANDAL!"
Romney had "income of $21.7 million in 2010 and $20.9 million last year — virtually all of it profits, dividends or interest from investments," according to the Washington Post's story about the release of his tax information.
The Post also noted that the Romneys "gave away $7 million in charitable contributions over the past two years, including at least $4.1 million" to the LDS Church. Paying 10 percent of their annual income in tithing, what members of the LDS Church refer to as "a full tithe," makes Romney, if nothing else, a typical Mormon. According to the recently released Pew Research Center survey of "Mormons in America," nearly 80 percent people who identify themselves as Mormons pay tithing. By comparison, research released by the Barna Group in 2008 indicated that 5 percent of American adults tithe.
The Daily Mail's Toby Harnden also weighed in, dropping a little Shakespeare:
"I'm really struggling to work out what all the fuss is about over this one. It seems to me to be much ado about nothing. Breaking news: Mitt Romney is very rich. He also gave millions and millions of dollars to charity and to the taxman," Harnden writes.
"OK, so Mormons are supposed to tithe 10 percent of their income. But it's to Romney's immense credit that he promised to do this in his youth and followed through with that — to the tune of scores of millions (maybe hundreds of millions) of dollars throughout his life."
Harnden continues that, by comparison, in 2010-11 Newt Gingrich donated 2.6 percent of his income to charity. Vice President Joe Biden? "... an average of $369 to charity a year for the decade before he moved to the Naval Observatory — about 0.3 percent."
Romney's tithe-paying may now be caught up in politics the way his income is, a possibility Chris Wallace of "Fox News Sunday" explored with Romney last Sunday.
"You have been very open about the fact that like a lot of other devout Mormons, you tithe to your church," Wallace said. "Given the results that we saw in South Carolina, do you think it might be any kind of a political problem, the fact that, being as wealthy are you are, you've given millions of dollars to the (LDS Church)?"
Romney said he hoped his faith-based donations would not be a political problem.
"If people want to discriminate against someone based upon their commitment to tithe, I'd be very surprised," he said. "This is a country that believes in the Bible. The Bible speaks about providing tithes and offerings. I made a commitment to my church a long, long time ago that I would give 10 percent of my income to the church. And I followed through on that commitment.
"And, hopefully, as people look at various individuals running for president, they'd be pleased with someone who made a promise to God and kept that promise," Romney continued. "So, if I had given less than 10 percent, then I think people would have had to look at me and say, hey, what's wrong with you, fella? Don't you follow through on the promises?"
View Romney's financial documents in PDF format.
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