O'Rourke Compares Service in Congress to Charitable Giving

O'Rourke criticized for giving just 0.3 percent of income to charity in 2017

Beto O'Rourke (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
April 17, 2019

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke likened his service in Congress to contributions to charity on Tuesday when responding to a critic of his low charitable giving.

The former Texas congressman has taken heat over his 2017 tax return showing he and his wife Amy gave $1,166 out of their $366,455 adjusted gross income that year to charity, a giving rate of just 0.3 percent. A town hall questioner at the University of Virgina asked O'Rourke why her sister, a recent college graduate, made far less than he did but gave more to charity.

"I've served in public office since 2005," he said. "I do my best to contribute to the success of my community, my state and now, of my country. There are ways that I do this that are measurable. And there are ways that I do this that are immeasurable."

O'Rourke added there were some charities they donated to which they hadn't recorded and itemized to write off on their taxes. He went on to say he was sacrificing at that moment by being out on the campaign trail rather than home with his family.

"I will tell you, I'm doing everything that I can right now, spending this time with you—not with our kiddos, not back home in El Paso—because I want to sacrifice everything to make sure that we meet this moment of truth with everything that we've got," O'Rourke said.

After a stint on El Paso's City Council from 2005 to 2011, O'Rourke served three terms as a U.S. Representative before challenging Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) for his seat in 2018, running as an unabashed liberal in a state that hadn't elected a statewide Democrat in decades.

O'Rourke lost to Cruz, but his close race and fundraising prowess led to calls by progressives across the country for him to run for president. O'Rourke said in 2018 he would not be a candidate but he ultimately reversed himself and joined the increasingly crowded field of 2020 hopefuls.

While he's continued to put up strong fundraising numbers, he's been criticized for having a lack of substance and also been hit from the left for taking more centrist and corporatist positions in the past.

Watch the exchange below: