How you use your money tells us a lot

When you drive down Columbia Street in Bloomfield, you will roll past two lessons on selfless giving.

Both of those “lessons” are wrapped in one important building, the Bloomfield Public Library. More on the library’s lessons in a moment.

All of this is pertinent to our discussion today because it seems as if Beto O’Rourke, one of the flood of Democrats who want to be our president, never really grasp the lesson about the importance of giving that many of us have learned.

O’Rourke is wealthy, both by Davis County standards and by Washington, D.C., standards. The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics listed him near the top 50 richest members of the U.S. House before he left office in January.

He released a decade’s worth of his tax returns last week. O’Rourke deserves a big attaboy for doing what our current president has steadfastly refused to do since June 2015, when he announced he was running for president.

But O’Rourke’s returns showed something that ought to trouble any self-respecting person who truly believes he or she has what it takes to lead the wealthiest nation on this Earth.

The latest return he made public, for 2017, showed that he and his wife, Amy, donated $1,166 to charity that year – a year when their income was $370,400.

That’s right, $1,166.

That’s not tithing 10 percent of one’s income. It’s not even tithing 1 percent of one’s income. The O’Rourkes gave three-tenths of 1 percent.

Let me put that in context. The median household income in Davis County is $49,500 per year. O’Rourke’s level of giving is equivalent to that Davis County family donating $148 for an entire year.

The 46-year-old El Paso, Texas, resident appeared tone deaf at a town hall meeting the day after he released his tax returns when a woman challenged him on his level of giving.

His response: “I’m doing everything I can right now, spending time with you, not our kiddos, not back in El Paso, because I want to sacrifice everything to make sure that we meet this moment of truth with everything that I’ve got.”

As the criticism of his charitable giving continued to build across the nation, O’Rourke offered another explanation the next day – that he and his wife donated much more than was shown on their 2017 tax return, but they didn’t include those gifts on the return because they weren’t interested in the tax write-off.

His explained: “We’ve made donations to so many organizations in small amounts, in the hundreds of dollars, in larger amounts, in the thousands of dollars. This is beyond what’s itemized and reflected in our taxes.”

Call me skeptical. If he didn’t feel the need to itemize all of those other donations, why did he feel the need to itemize $1,166 in gifts?

Back to the Bloomfield library.

The original building was constructed a century ago with money from a gift from Pittsburgh steel baron Andrew Carnegie.

In 2015, community leaders decided the library needed more space, and a $2.3 million addition and renovation were planned. But there was no Andrew Carnegie waiting with his checkbook to pay for the entire project.

In this community where you need to add together the incomes of a half-dozen typical residents to equal O’Rourke’s income, people stepped forward with donations big and small. Forty-four gifts exceeded or nearly equaled the O’Rourke family’s 2017 giving.

The library project was paid for the same way members of the Bloomfield Christian Church paid for their beautiful stone building 65 years ago. That’s the same way every other church in town was built. It’s the same way construction of the Mutchler Community Center was financed. And it’s the way the Boy Scout camp at Lake Wapello came to be.

If the people in this corner of southern Iowa, people with dirt under their fingernails and callouses on their hands, can find the money to pay for things when there’s no government money, or not enough government money, then a wealthy guy from Texas ought to be able to pony up more than $1,166 for charity.

There is no law that you must donate to churches or charities or other community causes.

But if you want to be the leader of the people of the United States, then you ought to show that leadership in how you live your life when you are not in the spotlight and in how you use the gifts you have been blessed with during your time on this Earth.

Andrew Carnegie offered some wisdom more than a century ago that certainly seems applicable to today’s discussion: “As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.”

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Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and retired opinion editor at the Des Moines Register. He is a native of Bloomfield, Iowa, and now lives in Des Moines. He can be reached at

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