Tax records suggest Charlie Crist and Rick Scott lag in charitable giving

While Gov. Rick Scott and his Democratic rival Charlie Crist have waged a bitter public relations battle over the release of their tax returns, both sides have been mum about one aspect of the documents:

They suggest that both candidates are philanthropic laggards in comparison with their well-heeled peers. The returns show no giving from Crist in recent years, and declining charity from Scott.

Crist has taken the $6,000 standard deduction for years, even when his income jumped from $135,000 as governor to $705,000 while working in the private sector. At both income levels, rather than itemizing, he took the standard deduction that might include charitable giving, but does not specify it.

Crist, who does not own a home, files separately from his wife, Carole, and has refused to disclose her tax returns, a fact the Scott campaign pounced on this week.

Crist said his tax returns don’t list contributions that he regularly makes to his St. Petersburg church, First United Methodist, and to homeless people that he meets on downtown streets. He said he couldn’t estimate how much he has given.

“I don’t claim it, I just do it,” said Crist, who reported a 2013 net worth of $1.25 million. “I don’t care about money. I give it out of my heart. I don’t give it to get a tax break.”

Scott’s tax returns, filed jointly with his wife, Ann, are more complicated, as to be expected from a couple with a 2013 net worth of $132.7 million. Yet while the returns reflect sizeable charitable contributions, they have diminished over time and represent declining fractions of overall wealth.

In 2010, their charitable contributions totaled $633,581, or 6.8 percent of their $9.3 million adjusted gross income.

But their charitable giving in 2011 was $209,871 — 0.3 percent of a reported $80.3 million income, which included the sale of Scott’s network of walk-in urgent care centers. In 2012, charitable contributions dipped to $99,953, representing 1.1 percent of an $8.7 million income.

Scott has not yet disclosed his 2013 return because he received a filing extension.

According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics in Washington D.C., Americans with incomes above $500,000, like Crist, give an average of 2.5 percent of their incomes in charitable contributions. Those in Scott’s income bracket, around $10 million to $80 million, give an average of between 3.7 percent and 5.9 percent.

When he ran for governor in 2010, Scott’s 2009 tax return showed he contributed 17 percent of the income he and his wife reported that year. Alex Sink, the Democratic nominee, indicated on her tax return that 14.4 percent of her income went to charity.

Scott’s office referred questions to his reelection campaign. A spokesman there, Greg Blair, didn’t answer an e-mailed question from the Herald/Times asking about Scott’s reduced giving.

Some examples: In 2010, 2011 and 2011, the Scotts gave $20,000 each year to the George W. Bush Foundation, a main financial supporter for the library of the 43rd president. In the same period, they gave a total of $132,000 to their home church, Naples Community Church. In 2010, they gave $82,000 to the Naples Children and Education Foundation.

They also made a $96,278 donation to the Governor’s Mansion Foundation on Jan. 7, 2011, described in their 2011 tax return as a “fine and decorative art collection” that was in “excellent, brand new” condition.

While in Tampa on Friday, Scott described the gift in a speech.

“When children come [to the mansion], they can see olive oil jars from Christopher Columbus’ ship,” Scott said. “They can see Spanish treasures. They can try to pick up a $150,000 silver bar. We do remind them there are cameras in case they try to walk off with it.”

John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott’s office, said a request made Thursday to see the art donation wasn’t enough notice to fulfill by Friday.

Blair did suggest that Scott’s time on the job as governor is a kind of gift.

“It’s important to note that the governor does not draw a taxpayer-funded salary,” Blair stated in an email.

He also criticized Crist for his lack of charity — at least as reflected in his tax returns.

“Millionaire Charlie Crist collects a $45,000 taxpayer-funded pension on top of his trial lawyer salary, but can’t manage to donate a single penny to charity,” Blair stated in an email. “Once again, Crist stands for nothing but his own self-interest and personal gain.”

When told about Blair’s comments, Crist objected, stating that he gives, but just doesn’t report it. He said his tax return filed next year should show a charitable contribution of about $5,000 he’s making to the St. Petersburg domestic violence non-profit Community Action Stops Abuse, or CASA. He said he and his wife are organizing a Sept. 27 benefit for the group at the Vinoy.

Asked to comment about Scott’s charitable contributions, Crist declined.

“I’m not going to judge him, just like it’s not his job to judge me,” Crist said. “He should be able to spend his money however he wants to spend it.”

Tampa Bay Times staff writer Dan Sullivan contributed to this story.