ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Dick Cheney, the Republican vice presidential nominee, on Tuesday defended his charitable giving over the past decade, saying that published reports putting his donations at less than 1% of his income didn't take into account everything.
He was quizzed by reporters on his plane about his level of giving, particularly in light of his running mate's call for more donations to private charities in lieu of increased federal spending.
"It's not a policy matter," he said. "It's a personal matter. It's a matter of private choice."
Cheney has faced criticism in recent weeks for his finances, ever since the terms of his retirement package from a Dallas-based oil company became public. He resigned as chief executive officer of Halliburton Inc. after five years to become Texas Gov. George W. Bush's running mate. He left the company with nearly $34 million in stocks and stock options.
In addition, Cheney and his wife, Lynne, reported earning about $22 million in the last 10 years, the vast bulk of which came after the former Defense secretary left public service for the private sector in 1993.
Over those 10 years, according to figures released by the campaign, the Cheneys donated $209,832 directly to charity.
On the campaign plane, Cheney bristled at the use of that figure to reflect his giving, arguing it didn't take into account an additional $232,320 in contributions from speaking fees he refused and matching corporate contributions. Together, the figures add up to more than $440,000 in donations.
The Cheney tax returns from 1989 to 1999 were released by the Cheneys on Friday to the Federal Election Commission. On the day the tax returns were released, Cheney also said he would forfeit stock options valued at more than $3.5 million if he and Bush were elected in November. The stock options had been controversial because he cannot exercise them for three years, well into his vice presidency if his ticket wins.
Cheney on Tuesday said Halliburton officials had offered to allow the stock to vest early, but he declined, saying he wanted to follow normal company policy.
He said he felt his charitable contributions were appropriate but invited others to decide for themselves. "I think that's a choice that individuals have to make in terms of what they want to do with their resources," he said. "I've laid it all out [and] you can check it however you want to check it."
Vice President Al Gore has also faced criticism in the past for low levels of charitable donations.
In 1999, the Gores reported $240,930 in income and gave about $15,000--or a little more than 6% of their income. Two years earlier he was dubbed "Vice President Scrooge" by some after his tax returns showed he gave $353 to charity out of an adjusted gross income of $197,729.
Cheney said he believed politicians had a right to encourage personal giving.
"It's one of the unique features of our civilization--the extent to which people privately support worthy causes," he said. "And I think it's perfectly legitimate for a politician to say that's a good idea."