There's a lot to shake your head at in this Mitt Romney scold of ordinary people who simply want to understand how wealthy people can pay 13 percent of their income in taxes while the rest of us pay something closer to 15-27 percent. But I
August 17, 2012

[h/t David at VideoCafe]

There's a lot to shake your head at in this Mitt Romney scold of ordinary people who simply want to understand how wealthy people can pay 13 percent of their income in taxes while the rest of us pay something closer to 15-27 percent. But I want to zoom in on this comment:

And if you add in addition the amount the goes to charity [at the Mormon church], well, the number gets well above 20 percent.

I'm not actually sure what logic conflates a church tithe with taxes. Does he think they go to the same sorts of things? Does he truly believe the LDS church actually uses the tithes they receive to assist poor people, build roads, fix bridges, provide health care?

He's either lying or naïve. I'll put long odds on the lie. Before I hear a lot of clucking and see fingers wagging at me for taking aim at Romney's religion, I suggest you read what Mitt Romney thinks "charity" is, because yes, it does matter, and yes, his religion is part of the package. You bet it is.

Start with this. It's estimated that annual tithes and offerings to the Church of Latter-Day Saints are in the range of $7 billion. That's seven billion dollars per year. Where do they spend all that money?


The Mormon church has no hospitals and only a handful of primary schools. Its university system is limited to widely respected Brigham Young, which has campuses in Utah, Idaho and Hawaii, and LDS Business College. Seminaries and institutes for high school students and single adults offer religious studies for hundreds of thousands.

It counts more than 55,000 in its missionary forces, primarily youths focused on converting new members but also seniors who volunteer for its nonprofits, such as the Polynesian Cultural Center, which bills itself as Hawaii's No. 1 tourist attraction, and for-profit businesses owned by the church.

The church has plowed resources into a multi-billion-dollar global network of for-profit enterprises: it is the largest rancher in the United States, a church official told Nebraska's Lincoln Journal Star in 2004, with other ranches and farms in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Australia and Great Britain, according to financial documents reviewed by Reuters.

Ranching and farm industry sources say they are well-run operations.

It also has a small media empire, an investment fund, and is developing a mall across from its Salt Lake City headquarters, which it calls an attempt to help revitalize the city rather than to make money. These enterprises are also part of a vast nest egg for tough times. The church expects wars and natural disasters before Christ returns to Earth in the Second Coming, and members are encouraged to prepare by laying in stores of food. Farms and ranches are part of the church's own preparation.

Now keep some things in mind here. If they could, LDS legislators would abolish the child labor laws in this country. This is so they can then employ children to do the work of men for long hours with little pay in their church-owned enterprises, I'm sure. Or to boost the profits of their member-owned enterprises with cheap labor so they can receive more in tithes and offerings.

Bloomberg Businessweek published an exhaustive report on LDS "enterprise" in July. It was startling, particularly with regard to how vast their enterprises really are. Here's an organizational chart from the article:


As a religious organization, the LDS Church enjoys several tax advantages. Like other churches, it is often exempt from paying taxes on the real estate properties it leases out, even to commercial entities, says tax lawyer David Miller, who is not Mormon. The church also doesn’t pay taxes on donated funds and holdings. Mitt Romney and others at Bain Capital, the private equity firm he co-founded in 1984, gave the Mormon Church millions’ worth of stock holdings obtained through Bain deals, according to Reuters. Between 1997 and 2009, these included $2 million in Burger King (BKW) and $1 million in Domino’s Pizza (DPZ) shares. Under U.S. law, churches can legally turn around and sell donated stock without paying capital-gains taxes, a clear advantage for both donor and receiver. The church also makes money through various investment vehicles, including a trust company and an investment fund called Ensign Peak Advisors, which employs managers who specialize in international equities, cash management, fixed income, quantitative investment, and emerging markets, according to profiles on LinkedIn (LNKD). Public information on Ensign Peak is sparse. In 2006 one of the fund’s vice presidents, Laurence R. Stay, told the Mormon-run Deseret News, “As we trade securities, all of the trading happens essentially with a handshake. … There’s lots of protections around it, but billions of dollars change hands every day just based on the ethics of the group—that people know that they can trust each other.”

Contrast that with Catholic Church investments, or Seventh-Day Adventists, who tend to invest not only in church buildings and land, but also hospitals and health care facilities, feeding the poor, and taking care of those who cannot take care of themselves. Not that they don't have their own problems. They do. But still, there's a material difference between what they put their money into and what the LDS church uses their tithes and offerings for.

I think we can all agree that Mitt's tithe to the Mormon church isn't going to "charity."

Back when I went through the 990 forms to write about how Mitt and Ann Romney's charitable foundation realized some hefty gains from Bain Capital investments they donated, I also paid some attention to the "charities" that foundation funded. Here are three years' worth. The other years track fairly close to these. Some are indeed charity. Others? Not so much. I didn't count anything to prestigious exclusive schools, right wing organizations or LDS enterprises as charity.


  • LDS Church: $145,000 (not charity)
  • Belmont Hill School: $5,000 (not charity - prestigious private school)
  • Best Friends Foundation: $15,000 (charity)
  • Boys and Girls Club of Boston: $10,000 (charity)
  • Brigham Young University: $25,000 (not charity - LDS University
  • Center for Treatment of Pediatric MS: $75,000 (charity)

Out of $275,000 given, $100,000 went to real charities, or about 36 percent.


  • LDS Church: $600,000 (not charity)
  • The Becket Fund: $25,000 (right wing tax-exempt organization dedicating to suing for religious liberty)
  • My Sister's Keeper: $5,000 (charity)
  • Mass General Hospital Cancer Center $1,000 (charity)

Out of total $631,000 given, $6,000 given to charity, or 1 percent.


  • SafetyNet: $10,000 (charity)
  • Boston Ten Point Coalition: $15,000 (charity)
  • Boys & Girls Harbor: $20,000 (charity)
  • Operation Kids: $10,000 (charity)
  • Epilepsy Foundation: $1,000 (charity)
  • Pioneer Institute: $10,000 (not charity - right wing think tank)
  • Belmont Hill School: $5,000 (not charity - prestigious private school)
  • Cranbrook Education Community: $5,000 (not charity - prestigious private school)
  • Boys & Girls Club: $10,000 (charity)
  • Pan Mass Challenge: $10,000 (charity)
  • Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Breath of Life Gala: $10,000 (charity and a party, too!)
  • Deseret International Foundation: $25,000 (not charity - LDS Media org)
  • LDS Church: $1,800,000 (not charity)

Out of $1,926,000, $86,000 went to charity, or 4 percent.

You see the pattern there. A very small percentage of total non-profit giving from the foundation went to actual charities. Far more went into the LDS coffers, to BYU, exclusive private schools, or right wing organizations. Through the years, the foundation has given to the Federalist Society, the Hoover Institution, the Heritage Foundation, anti-abortion groups in Massachusetts, and anti-LGBT organizations like the Massachusetts Family Institute. These are not charities. They are political organizations, and right-wing political organizations at that.

So the next time you hear Mitt or Ann Romney extol their "charitable giving" as evidence of either their goodness or their sacrifice, remember that charity seems to be in the eye of the beholder. Or businessman.

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