Recently, Bill O'Reilly of Fox News and other conservative pundits criticized Vice President Joe Biden for his lack of charitable giving, based on the figures reported on Biden's 2010 income tax return.
This attack was made within the context of the push by Biden for the implementation of the Buffett Rule, which calls for the rich to pay more in taxes, and Biden's liberal belief that government should be primarily responsible for helping the nation's poor. Specifically, Biden and his wife listed tax deductible contributions to charities on their 2011 tax return that amounted to just 1.46 percent of their $379,035 income.
In a segment called "Personal Generosity and Social Justice," and in a published opinion piece entitled "Charity and Politics," O'Reilly reviewed the amounts donated by President Obama (acceptable), VP Biden (unacceptable), former Presidents Bush and Clinton (acceptable), and former VP Al Gore (very unacceptable).
O'Reilly mocked Biden and Gore as being "cheap," and said they "should be embarrassed by their lack of generosity, particularly in light of their liberal beliefs that government should provide an intricate safety net to the poor."
He went on: "He (Biden) and his wife donated just 1.46 percent of their $379,035 income to charity. Paltry? You bet. And not unusual. Since Joe Biden took office in 2009, he has made close to $1.1 million. His charitable donations: $16,710. Advice to kids: don't go trick or treating at the Biden house."
O'Reilly was joined by other conservative pundits such as Fox's Neil Cavuto in bashing Biden as being a hypocrite for his lackluster contributions to charity. "Vice President Joe Biden has been going all over the country advocating the rich paying their "fair share" ... but is the VP practicing what he's preaching?" asked Cavuto.
The Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament states: "But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."
Being generous and benevolent to others should be strictly a personal and confidential matter based on one's religious convictions, moral upbringing, and individual passions for one charitable cause or another -- even for our president and vice president.
There were many other ways O'Reilly could have argued that Biden is a hypocrite in regard to his advocacy of the Buffett Rule. But O'Reilly was totally off-base and mean-spirited to highlight Biden's record of charitable contributions based on his income tax returns alone to try to "out" him as a cheap political Scrooge.
Giving a tax deductible contribution is just one of many ways to carry out charitable acts to others less fortunate. Not to mention tax deductible contributions are a questionable government public policy that rewards such behavior, costing the U.S. Treasury billions of dollars a year.
The amount of charitable contributions listed on a tax return, which are used by rich guys like Buffet and O'Reilly to significantly reduce their taxable liabilities, is, standing alone, a false, contemptuous basis of measurement of an individual's generosity. Remember, only certain kinds of giving to a specific kind of IRS approved charity can be deducted.
It's up to the accountants to list which contributions an individual makes that can be itemized on a return. So simple acts of charity or donations made to non Section 501(c)(3) compliant charities will not appear on their Schedule A of their tax return.
There are also forms of charity that are not monetary. These include random acts of kindness that are not pecuniary in nature but that can be important in other, more spiritual ways.
Politicians across this nation take many opportunities on a daily basis to privately help their constituents in charitable ways that are kept confidential between them and those they have helped.
I am sure time and time again, throughout his career, that Vice President Biden has followed the dictates of Matthew and secretly and confidentially helped others in need. Despite the apparent paltry contributions listed on his tax returns, and his political beliefs in social justice, he will have no problem receiving his reward at the pearly gates when the time comes.
First Published in the Sun Sentinel on April 25, 2012. Steven Kurlander's columns appear every Thursday in the Sun Sentinel and Friday in The Florida Voices. Follow him via his blog on www.stevenkurlander.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.