From vulture capitalist to vulture tither?

ABC News’ investigative desk is out with a scandalous report tying together presidential politics and religious tithing. Apparently when wealthy people tithe at the same rate as less wealthy people, it can add up to more gross dollars. Who knew?

Underscoring the prominent, if little discussed role that Mitt Romney played as a Mormon leader, the private equity giant once run by the GOP presidential frontrunner carved his church a slice of several of its most lucrative business deals, securities records show, providing it with millions of dollars worth of stock in some of Bain Capital’s most well-known holdings.

Romney has always been a major donor to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which requires that members “tithe,” or give 10 percent of their income to the church. His family charity, called the Tyler Foundation, has given more than $4 million to the church in the past five years, including $1.8 million in 2008 and $600,000 in 2009. But because Romney, whose fortune has been estimated at $250 million, has never released his personal tax returns, the full extent of his giving has never been public.

Newly uncovered stock contributions made during Romney’s Bain days suggest there is another dimension to Romney’s support for the church — one that could involve millions more than has been previously disclosed.

Dunh-dunh-dunh!!! But seriously, what's the problem? I mean, when my husband and I give money to our congregation, we just write checks from our bank account. But sure, if we were involved in investment transactions, we almost certainly would transfer things immediately to our congregation -- if for no other reason than the tax implications. Am I missing why this is a big deal? Donors frequently donate stocks directly to non-profits. Whether you're the American Civil Liberties Union or the Zoroastrian Alliance or something in between, this is not really breaking news.

The article goes on to reveal that an unnamed Bain partner donated $1.9 million worth of Burger King stock to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And Romney's staff responded by saying that some of the Bain stock transactions the ABC News investigate desk asked about were, in fact, donated at Romney's direction.

“Mitt Romney has publicly stated that he regularly tithes to his church,” said Andrea Saul, a Romney campaign spokeswoman, when asked about the Bain contributions. “Some of those church contributions have come through the Tyler Foundation. Others have been donations of stock through Bain. Any shares donated by Mitt Romney are personal shares owned by him.”

Saul also noted that not all the shares that appear on Bain securities filings can be attributed to Romney, “as there are other Mormon members of the firm who may also have been making donations to the church of personal shares owned by them.”

Questions about Romney’s faith have remained largely subdued during the 2012 campaign. Many believe he helped tame the issue during his previous campaign with a December 2007 speech at the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, during which he declared that his church would not dictate his actions in the White House, if he was to become President.

"Questions have remained subdued"?

"Many believe"?

Why all the indirect language?

The article tries to get into explaining the religion angle behind all this but just skims the surface:

The Mormon church is distinct from many other American denominations in what it asks from adherents in money, time and commitment — and not just because it asks young Mormon males to spend two years proselytizing for the faith as missionaries, said Jan Shipps, a religion professor at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis, and one of the preeminent non-Mormon authorities on the church.

Romney has spoken about the 30 months he spent in France as a missionary, but his role within the church as an adult is largely unexplored. Shipps said Romney has held several significant posts within church leadership, including bishop and “stake” president, a leadership post that covers a sizeable geographic area and requires a significant commitment of time.

Beyond that, Romney appears to have lived up to rigid financial requirements within the church that asks parishioners to contribute 10 percent of their annual earnings.

So how is it distinct other than asking Mormon males to spend two years as missionaries? Don't expect the article to tell you, unless they think adult laypeople serving as leaders is "distinct." Hey, tell that to the people in my congregation who serve as elders or on congregational or national boards.

Seriously, I have no idea what the article is trying to say.

Also, the last sentence seems a bit overwrought. Are they rigid requirements or just requests? I actually wouldn't mind a much more thorough discussion of that in the article, considering how it is interpreted in different ways by some LDS members. The dramatic language is par for the course here. I was going to comment on a line about "high-wheeling deals" but I don't actually know what it means. Sounds nefarious, though.

The last time I was reporting on a newspaper covering a presidential candidate's tithe, it was when a Texas newspaper went after Gov. Rick Perry for not giving 10 percent of his income to charity. Literally. The second line of the piece was "But when it comes time to giving, the governor doesn’t come close to the biblical guidance of tithing." Dunh-dunh-dunh!!!

In the excerpt above, we're told that Romney's "role within the church as an adult is largely unexplored." That's just not true. There have been many, many, many articles about Romney's role within the church as an adult. We've looked at some of them, but not all.

For instance, Vanity Fair has a huge story about Mitt Romney -- and it's quite good, actually, despite the bizarrely negative headline, "The Dark Side of Romney" -- that focuses mostly on his role within the LDS church as an adult. It's in the February issue and was released last week. At the top of the story, we're told that the Romney's Mormonism is their foundation and explains everything from their charity, their marriage, their parenting and their social lives to their very weekly schedules. They cherished their family but also viewed it as a Mormon duty to spend time together. The Romneys enjoyed citing a well-known Mormon credo popularized by the late president of the LDS, David O. McKay: No other success can compensate for failure in the home.

Here's just a section of the substance of the religion discussion in Vanity Fair's profile of Romney, completely disproving ABC News' contention that his adult Mormon life has been unexplored:

Mormon congregations, typically groups of 400 to 500 people, are known as wards, and their boundaries are determined by geography. Wards, along with smaller congregations known as branches, are organized into stakes. Thus a stake, akin to a Catholic diocese, is a collection of wards and branches in a city or region. Unlike Protestants or Catholics, Mormons do not choose the congregations to which they belong. It depends entirely on where they live. In another departure from many other faiths, Mormons do not have paid full-time clergy. Members in good standing take turns serving in leadership roles. They are expected to perform their ecclesiastical duties on top of career and family responsibilities. Those called to serve as stake presidents and bishops, or leaders of local wards, are fully empowered as agents of the church, and they carry great authority over their domains. Mitt Romney first took on a major church role around 1977, when he was called to be a counselor to Gordon Williams, then the president of the Boston stake. Romney was essentially an adviser and deputy to Williams, helping oversee area congregations. His appointment was somewhat unusual in that counselors at that level have typically been bishops of their local wards first. But Romney, who was only about 30 years old, was deemed to possess leadership qualities beyond his years. Romney’s responsibilities only grew from there; he would go on to serve as bishop and then as stake president, overseeing about a dozen congregations with close to 4,000 members altogether. Those positions in the church amounted to his biggest leadership test yet, exposing him to personal and institutional crises, human tragedies, immigrant cultures, social forces, and organizational challenges that he had never before encountered.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is far more than a form of Sunday worship. It is a code of ethics that frowns on homosexuality, out-of-wedlock births, and abortion and forbids pre-marital sex. It offers a robust, effective social safety net, capable of incredible feats of charity, support, and service, particularly when its own members are in trouble. And it works hard to create community, a built-in network of friends who often share values and a worldview. For many Mormons, the all-encompassing nature of their faith, as an extension of their spiritual lives, is what makes belonging to the church so wonderful, so warm, even as its insularity can set members apart from society.

But a dichotomy exists within the Mormon Church, which holds that one is either in or out; there is little or no tolerance for those, like so-called cafeteria Catholics, who pick and choose what doctrines to follow. And in Mormonism, if one is in, a lot is expected, including tithing 10 percent of one’s income, participating regularly in church activities, meeting high moral expectations, and accepting Mormon doctrine—including many concepts, such as the belief that Jesus will rule from Missouri in his Second Coming, that run counter to those of other Christian faiths. That rigidity can be difficult to abide for those who love the faith but chafe at its strictures or question its teachings and cultural habits. For one, Mormonism is male-dominated—women can serve only in certain leadership roles and never as bishops or stake presidents. The church also makes a number of firm value judgments, typically prohibiting single or divorced men from leading wards and stakes, for example, and not looking kindly upon single parenthood.

The portrait of Romney that emerges from those he led and served with in the church is of a leader who was pulled between Mormonism’s conservative core views and practices and the demands from some quarters within the Boston stake for a more elastic, more open-minded application of church doctrine. Romney was forced to strike a balance between those local expectations and the dictates out of Salt Lake City. Some believe that he artfully reconciled the two, praising him as an innovative and generous leader who was willing to make accommodations, such as giving women expanded responsibility, and who was always there for church members in times of need. To others, he was the product of a hidebound, patriarchal Mormon culture, inflexible and insensitive in delicate situations and dismissive of those who didn’t share his perspective.

His role within the church as an adult is largely unexplored?

Please. The article goes on to provide examples from his fans and detractors in an even-handed way. It's neither a puff piece nor a hit piece. After reading the lengthy Vanity Fair article, the idea that Romney's tithing to his church would be noteworthy is silly. Vanity Fair shows how it's done. The article, which also explores his successes at Bain Capital and which is an excerpt from a book on the candidate, is much more thorough and specific.

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