AUSTIN, Texas — Ted Cruz sometimes sounds more like a preacher than a presidential candidate, praising the transformative love of Jesus Christ and promising to defend religious liberty. But the Texas senator rarely evokes the biblical tenet of tithing, the mandate that 10 percent of possessions be donated to God.
That's because Cruz doesn't tithe. He and his wife donated less than 1 percent of their income to charity and nothing to churches, including to their own in Houston, according to tax returns from 2006 to 2010, the most recent Cruz has released.
His campaign declined requests from The Associated Press to provide recent tax returns or otherwise demonstrate donations since 2010. Cruz has said he and his wife were more focused on using their seven-figure annual income to build a financial foundation for their family.
Being a past charitable cheapskate provides a glimpse of who Cruz was before running for president, when he was known more as a fierce fiscal conservative than a devout Southern Baptist. Cruz's religious side similarly didn't dominate his 2012 run for Senate in Texas. Cruz suggested shortly after taking office that politicians should "avoid ostentatiously wrapping yourself in your faith" — advice he has ignored amid his rise in national polls.
"It's not like this is a new issue, it just wasn't front and center," James Bernsen, the spokesman for Cruz's Senate campaign, said of religion. "Ted's main focus was on Obamacare, taxing and spending, the national debt."
On the night he won the 2012 Texas primary, Cruz reminded a packed Houston hotel ballroom that victory came on what would have been the 100th birthday of free-market champion Milton Friedman. Only after that did he praise God.
The following year, Cruz told the Christian Broadcasting Network: "I think anyone in politics, you've got a special obligation to avoid being a Pharisee, to avoid ostentatiously wrapping yourself in your faith."
Now seeking the White House, Cruz has done the opposite. He is trying to solidify support from evangelical Republicans against Donald Trump and religious conservatives like Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, whose supporters have questioned Cruz's lack of tithing.
Cruz launched his presidential bid at evangelical Liberty University and has sought support from pastors in all 99 Iowa counties. A super political action committee built a website trumpeting his faith bona fides, including a video detailing how a then-8-year-old Cruz "surrendered his heart to Jesus" during summer camp at a Christian ranch. Cruz mentioned faith repeatedly in Thursday's GOP debate.
Cruz's past charitable donations weren't so generous, though he isn't alone in withholding more recent tax records. Trump also hasn't disclosed his tax returns. Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have released partial returns from recent years.
Clinton reported giving away 13 percent of her family's taxable income in 2014, and Bush reported donating 4 percent of his that year.
Sanders did not release the part of his 2014 return that shows charitable donations, but his campaign said he and his wife gave away about 6 percent of their taxable income. Fiorina reported donating what amounted to 22 percent of her family's taxable income in 2013.
Cruz's Senate campaign released five years of tax returns through 2010 showing that he and his wife donated about $44,500 of the more than $5 million they made over the period — less than 1 percent of their income.
Those returns didn't include itemized donations, but Cruz gave a list to the San Antonio Express-News in 2012. The newspaper reported that, while some donations went to faith-based organizations, no money was reported to have been donated to churches, including Houston's First Baptist, where the Cruzes have worshipped since 2008.
Cruz responded that he'd "worked and saved to build a solid financial foundation to provide for my children." He has two daughters.
Recently asked about tithing by the Christian Broadcasting Network, Cruz said "I will readily admit that I have not been as faithful in this aspect of my walk as I should have been."