clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Jeb Bush says he’s proud of his charitable giving. He shouldn’t be.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

One of the most humiliating revelations from Jeb Bush's tax records, which he posted online Tuesday, is that Bush is a true Scrooge when it comes to charitable giving. In 2013, he gave $110,616. That seems like a lot, until you consider it's only 1.5 percent of his $7.3 million income that year.

That tax cycle wasn't an aberration. Every year since leaving the Florida governorship, Bush has given 3 percent or less of his income to charity, despite making millions of dollars every year.

Bush is just fine with his giving. "I’m proud of what Columba and I have contributed," he declared upon releasing the records. He shouldn't be.

Jeb Bush could be saving dozens of lives every year

According to the charity evaluator GiveWell, one of their top charities, the Against Malaria Foundation, spends about $5.30-$7.50 per bednet it distributes to children in Malawi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Given what we know about bednet effectiveness, that means Against Malaria spends $3,340 for every life it saves. Those kind of estimates are necessarily rough but it's probably somewhere in that ballpark. If Jeb Bush had given 10 percent of his income ($727,476.40) to Against Malaria in 2013, he could've bought around 100,000 bednets, and saved about 218 lives.

Unless you're actually impoverished, 1.5 percent is a really small amount of money to give. My annual income is two orders of magnitude smaller than Bush's, and I'm still on track to give 11 percent to charity this year. And even that's nothing. Consider Jason Trigg, or the couple Julia Wise and Jeff Kaufman, who give away half of their earnings to hyper-effective charities every year. That's the saintly option.

Compared to that, giving 10 percent — the minimum suggested by the group Giving What We Can, which promotes effective philanthropic giving — ought to be easy. But Bush doesn't do it.

Other rich politicians have given a lot more than Jeb Bush

This is especially damning given how rich Bush is. It's one thing to not give 10 percent when you're making $50,000 a year; I certainly fell short earlier in my career. But $5,000 is really significant to someone earning $50,000. $730,000 to someone making $7.3 million just isn't. The marginal decrease in Jeb Bush's well-being from living on only $6.6 million is real, but tiny.

Many of Bush's peers have done a lot better. In 2011, Mitt Romney gave nearly a third of his income to charity. Last year, Barack and Michelle Obama gave 14.8 percent. In 2008, Hillary Clinton revealed that she and Bill gave 9.5 percent of their income to charity between 2000 and 2007. The big exceptions are the Bidens, who reported giving 1.9 percent last year, which is, like Bush's contribution track record, horrible.

Jeb is also below the average for all people in his income category. In 2011, tax filers with adjusted gross incomes between $5 million and $10 million gave 3.7 percent to charity, on average. Jeb gave just 1 percent that year.

Bush can afford to give at Obama or Romney levels. Indeed, he doesn't have a good reason not to.

Vox Featured Video