As part of the Romney campaign’s current disingenuous pivot to the center, Republicans and their allies have been promoting private charity as a substitute for the social welfare programs they would savagely cut. In anticipation of just this moment, Mitt Romney donated considerably more to charity in 2011 than he does in a typical year, which was conveniently timed to be revealed in late September. (Although, as I pointed out, most of Romney’s giving has historically been to the Mormon Church, his alma maters and the George W. Bush presidential library, not directly to poor people.)
During the vice-presidential debate Paul Ryan pointed to Romney’s donations as evidence of Romney’s compassion. Other conservatives been doing the same for Ryan. For example, the Family Research Council noted in its vice-presidential Catholic voter guide that Ryan gave more to charity last year than Vice President Biden. (It made no mention of any substantive anti-poverty policy positions.)
But the Romney/Ryan campaign took its obsession with proving their personal charitable bona fides a little too far on Saturday. After Ryan held a townhall at Youngstown State University in Ohio, Ryan stopped by a soup kitchen, without permission from the charity that runs it, for about fifteen minutes on his way to the airport. Brian J. Antal, president of the Mahoning County St. Vincent De Paul Society, in an interview with The Washington Post, said the Romney campaign did not contact him prior to their visit. Had they asked for permission to hold a photo op there, Antal tells the Post, he would have denied it because he runs a faith-based organization that avoids the appearance of engaging in partisan politics. But, says Antal, the Romney campaign “ramrodded their way” in. That’s because Ryan does not actually care about helping charities, only creating the appearance that he does.
The Post reports:
By the time [Ryan] arrived, the food had already been served, the patrons had left, and the hall had been cleaned.
Upon entering the soup kitchen, Ryan, his wife and three young children greeted and thanked several volunteers, then donned white aprons and offered to clean some dishes. Photographers snapped photos and TV cameras shot footage of Ryan and his family washing pots and pans that did not appear to be dirty.
As Antal says, “The photo-op they did wasn’t even accurate. He did nothing. He just came in here to get his picture taken at the dining hall.” Now, Antal is left to worry that Ryan’s appearance will offend donors who vote Democratic and result in lower donations.
Personal charitable contributions or volunteerism are no substitute for the far greater sums that Romney and Ryan would steal from the poor and give to the rich through cuts to taxes and spending. If Ryan had actually spent a few minutes cleaning pots and pans at a soup kitchen, it would be no compensation for his proposal to starve families by cutting funding for food stamps. But it’s worth noting that even Ryan’s supposed commitment to private charity is just dishonest window dressing.
For more on the Romney-Ryan ticket's fake charity, check out Ben Adler on "Romney's Ungenerous Donations."