Republicans give, but ...

Someone please tell me to stop reading articles about Michele Bachmann. Really, the Republican race is much bigger than her campaign and there are so many other candidates and issues to consider. But I cannot wrap my head around some of the strange coverage of her faith as these articles have become my recent guilty pleasure for some reason. Please bear with me through yet another Bachmann article because while a Huffington Post article on her giving habits was well-intended, it was poorly executed. You might write this off as just another HuffPost piece and perhaps I shouldn't expect something more, but I had hoped that some of this original reporting would not go to waste because of the way its framed (I will bold some "buts").

Michele Bachmann loves to regale voters with examples of how her Christian faith informs her choices. It has also influenced the groups she has chosen to support over the years, and nearly all of them have shared her evangelical view of the world.

When on the stump she is by turns humble and righteous. She rarely lets more than a few minutes pass without a quote from scripture or a reference to the Divine. But for all her emphasis on Christian virtue, and the Bible's directive to "honor the Lord with your wealth" [Proverbs 3:9], there is scant record of donations Bachmann has made to charity.

What is an "evangelical view of the world"? Are you sure all of the groups she has supported necessarily share her religious beliefs? Is there any indication that Bachmann doesn't give as the Bible directs? You might say offering a record of her donations as public would be a prudent thing to do, but if she doesn't offer this as an option, are we to think she is acting against her faith? Here's some context Emily Belz of World magazine provides in her rundown of candidate giving.

Mike Huckabee was an advocate for public officials releasing their tax returns when he was governor of Arkansas, but when he released his own records, he reaped controversy. "I was naïve enough to think that if I provide everything beyond what is legally required that I would be applauded," he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 2001. "What I found was all I did was hand over fodder for people in the print media and political opponents who like to file ethics complaints."

Again, reporters might think Bachmann should release her giving information, but I don't see anything unbiblical about it. On her church attendance, the reporters confirm that Bachmann attends Eagle Brook Church, an evangelical megachurch in Minnesota.

Like other evangelical Christian ministries, Eagle Brook encourages members to donate part of their gross income -- usually 10 percent -- to the church, a practice known as tithing. "We believe it's part of living a generous life," Anderson said.

The Eagle Brook website links to a Christian financial counselor who offers biblical verses and basic advice about managing family household expenses. Anderson declined to say whether Bachmann donates to Eagle Brook, but estimated that around 60 percent of attendees are "regularly participating financially."

I would have been more surprised if the pastor did tell the reporter if Bachmann donates to the church.

The reporters list some of the appearances Bachmann has made and we're supposed to be shocked by what some of the organizations stand for, such as the Susan B. Anthony List, David Horowitz Freedom Center, Citizens United and others.

All these appearances may help explain Bachmann's conspicuous absence from volunteer and donor lists in her district for such mainstream local nonprofits as the United Way, the Salvation Army or the Rotary Club.

Joanne Honsvall-Berg heads the campaign for the United Way of Washington County, the largest charitable organization in the St. Croix Valley area. "Bachmann has never donated to the United Way that I know of -- and I've been around a long time," she told HuffPost. "She's never participated in our programs."

Representatives for the Salvation Army and the Stillwater Sunrise Rotary Club gave similar responses. Spokesmen from Bachmann's alma maters -- Winona State University and Regents University -- declined to comment.

There's something strange about the expectation that Bachmann would donate money or time to United Way, etc. Has she ever been invited to speak at those places the way she had been invited at the previously mentioned places? Is it really correct to suggest that she's a graduate of "Regents University" (which should be Regent, by the way)? She attended Oral Roberts University's law school, which eventually transferred over to Regent. The reporters then do that "guilt by association" comparison with people like Bradlee Dean and Frank Vennes, never really indicating whether Bachmann has said she shares their beliefs.

Questions about her relationship with Frank Vennes and Bradlee Dean, as well as about her personal finances, her foster children and even her faith will continue to be asked.

Yes, they're being asked because you are the ones asking them. This piece is part of a larger HuffPost series on GOP giving, but other outlets have already looked at Romney and Perry's giving in the past. What's funny is that all three articles start out the same way, maybe because Andrea Stone was involved in all of them. You start with some conventional wisdom, and then you throw in the but ...

Here's the part on Mitt Romney:

Mitt Romney can afford to be charitable.

The richest remaining candidate in the Republican presidential field has a net worth somewhere north of $200 million. With a fortune amassed as a venture capitalist at his firm, Bain Capital, he has been generous to many community, civic and political advocacy organizations.

But the vast majority of his philanthropic contributions have gone to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) in the form of the tithes required of all Mormons in good standing.

And the beginning of the piece on Rick Perry:

Benevolent charity has long been a cornerstone of conservative social policy, whether in the form of a religious group organizing large-scale relief programs or a quiet donor giving a helping hand to an individual man or woman. But how well conservative politicians might practice what they preach varies dramatically.

Again, going back to that World piece by Emily Belz, a bit of context goes a long way.

The only candidate other than Perry to publish his personal tax returns is President Barack Obama. Obama has slowly edged up his giving, from under 1 percent of his income in 2000, to 1.4 percent in 2003, then up to 6 percent in 2006, and peaking at 13.6 percent last year. During his term, President George W. Bush gave an average of 9.3 percent. The Clintons gave an average of 24 percent of their income when Bill Clinton was president, though a few of those years they published a statement of their income and giving rather than the tax returns themselves.

Again, I love that the Huffington Post is trying to do some original reporting here to see whether the candidates are following through on their said beliefs, but it's hard to take seriously when it's spun in a but way.

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