Gubernatorial candidates Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis have generally given a smaller percentage of their income to charity than the average Texan, according to their tax returns for the past three years.
By comparison, Lisa Fritsch, a conservative commentator from Austin who is challenging Attorney General Abbott for the Republican nomination, is relatively more generous in her charitable contributions. It is a point that Fritsch made in releasing 13 years of tax returns, an act of transparency she said is modeled on Gov. Rick Perry, who has been releasing his returns since he first sought statewide office in 1990.
+ Deborah Chetwood Lisa Fritsch (Credit: Deborah Chetwood) First Abbott and then Davis released three years of returns, saying they thought that was a reasonable period of time.
But Fritsch said she felt obliged to go further.
“I’ve released these returns and exposed myself. I want people to know I’ve been on all sides of the economy,” said Fritsch, whose income – mostly from her husband, Mike Fritsch, a technology consultant – has fluctuated dramatically since 2000, from more than $2 million that year to a couple of years of net losses, to more than $200,000 in 2012.
“I want to be as open with voters as possible,” Fritsch said. “I want them to see that great year or lean year, I’ve felt called to give to charity.”
The Fritsches’ $125,000 in charitable contributions since 2000 represents 2.3 percent of their adjusted gross income over that period. In an analysis of Internal Revenue Service figures last year, the National Center for Charitable Statistics found that the average charitable contribution per return filed in 2010 was 2.1 percent, both nationally and in Texas. (The state with the highest average contributions – 4.8 percent - was Utah, where there is a strong Mormon tradition of tithing.)
The past three years – for which there is comparable data for Abbott and Davis – the Fritches’ percentage giving is a bit higher.
In 2010, they reported an adjusted gross income of $61,747 and gave $5,380, or 8.7 percent, to charity. In 2011, they earned $116,571 and gave $4,727 to charity, or 4 percent. And in 2012, they had an adjusted gross income of $170,332 and gave $10,432, or 6.1 percent, to charity.
By contrast, Abbott and his wife, Cecilia, earned a little over $200,000 each of those three years. In 2010, they gave $2,426 to charity, or 1.2 percent of adjusted gross income; in 2011, $6,620, or 3.1 percent; and in 2012, $3,014, or 1.4 percent.
While the 3.1 percent exceeds the Texas and national average, Abbott’s tax returns do not reflect the annual tax-free annuity he receives each year as part of a settlement for the accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down, which includes monthly payments and a lump sum every three years. He will have received $570,000 this year as part of the settlement.
“The fact that Abbott’s numbers do not include his settlement, which is income and available for him to live on or give to charity, inflates his apparent generosity,” SMU political scientist Cal Jillson said.
Davis, an attorney, had an adjusted gross income of $130,931 in 2010, $235,428 in 2011 and $284,183 in 2012, but she was most generous when she was earning the least, contributing $2,700 to charity, or 2 percent of her adjusted gross income, in 2010. In 2011, she donated $515 or 0.2 percent, and in 2012, $950 or 0.3 percent.
That’s pretty close to the Biden line. When Joe Biden was running for vice president in 2008, a review of his tax records found that he and his wife, Jill, had given an average of $369 a year over the previous decade to charity. Their giving has crept up since he has been vice president.
“My sense is that voters notice real stinginess more than they do average or even extraordinary generosity,” Jillson said. “All of the candidates for governor fall short of the biblical tithe, but Davis falls far enough short that she should be thinking of an explanation. That the poor will always be with us will not do.”
Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch and Davis spokeswoman Rebecca Acuña both said that the tax statements do not fully capture their candidate’s generosity or charitable giving.
“Although it isn’t a requirement, Sen. Davis released three years’ worth of tax returns,” Acuña said. “The information released accurately reflects how she makes her income and the taxes she pays. Texans are generous and charitable in many ways. Sen. Davis plays a role in assisting her family and extended family.”
Fritsch said she faults Abbott more than Davis, because, as a fellow conservative Republican, she felt he had a particular responsibility to give more.
“We’re the ones always talking about self-reliance, talking about not taking anything from the government,” Fritsch said. “What goes with that is an obligation then to serve your community, to give to your neighbor.”