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Presidential tax returns: Obama vs. Bush vs. Clinton

While Obama had the highest tax rate and gave the most to charity, his income his first year in office was millions more than Bush or Clinton.

By MSN Money Partner Apr 21, 2011 4:56PM

Presidential tax returns
Image: Washington, D.C. (© Bilderbuch/Design Pics/Corbis)By Jim Wang, Bargaineering


I always look forward to the annual ritual of the White House releasing the president’s tax return because it feeds one of my guilty pleasures -- financial voyeurism. This year is no different as pundits pick apart the 2010 tax return and look to draw conclusions about the president’s financial life. 


In this article, however, I intend to do something slightly different. I'm going to compare President Obama’s return with the returns of former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, using their first year in office. For my analysis, I leaned on the archives at Tax Analysts, which saved the releases as they were made available.


Presidential First Year Incomes: How do President Obama, Bush and Clinton compare in their first year in office? Obama certainly out-earned Bush and Clinton. Obama and Bush enjoyed $400,000 a year salaries while Clinton was paid a mere $200,000 a year in his terms.

  • Obama (2009): $5.5 million 
  • Bush (2001): $811,100 
  • Clinton (1993): $293,757

The vast majority of Obama’s income came from the sale of his books. Most Presidents don’t pen multi-million dollar books until after their Presidency. Even when adjusted for inflation, both Bush and Clinton earned $982,557 and $436,136 respectively (in 2009 dollars)  -- far less than Obama did.


That said, Obama overpaid in his estimated payments by over $8,000 (something he would do again in 2010). I wonder if that skews the IRS’s average tax refund statistic!


Post continues below video.


Charitable Contributions: Obama and Clinton both gave less, as a percentage of adjusted gross income, than Bush.

  •  Obama (2009): $329,100 (5.98%) 
  •  Bush (2001): $82,700 (10.2%)
  • Clinton (1993): $17,000 (5.8%)

As you can imagine, percentages don’t always tell the story. Obama gave significantly more, even adjusted for inflation, than the other two Presidents.


As an aside, a lot has been made of President Obama’s charitable contributions in 2010, which amounted to 14.1% of his income. As you may remember, Obama promised to donate all theproceeds of his children’s book, Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters, to the Fisher House Foundation, which provides free or low cost lodging to veterans and military families receiving treatment at military medical centers. We now learn that the proceeds resulted in a $131,075 contribution. Excluding those proceeds, the Obamas donated 6.6% of their income, which is closer to historical averages.


If you’re curious, President Reagan took in $412,730 ($974,101 in 2009 dollars) and gave $5,965 to charity. President Roosevelt earned $62,019 ($1 million in 2009 dollars) while giving $1,020 to charity. Presidents have become more generous lately!


Effective Tax Rates: Here were each President’s effective tax rate (despite all being in the top tax bracket) for that first in year in office: 


Obama (2009): 32.56%

Bush (2001): 30.85%

Clinton (1993): 21.33%


Post-Presidency Earnings: It’s a little unfair to compare former Presidents and current ones, though Obama’s $5.5 million haul in 2009 puts him in the same league with former presidents, because they typically earn staggering sums to speak and write memoirs. As we learned from the release of the Clinton tax returns in the 2008 Presidential Election, President Clinton earned nearly $110 million between 2000 and 2007, paying $33.7 million in federal taxes. In fact, Clinton earned more in his first full year out of office, $15.9 million in 2001, than he did while he was in office ($3,719,188 from 1992 to 1999).


Since President Bush is no longer disclosing his returns, we can only rely on news reports that President Bush’s speaking fees were around $150,000 a piece and he received a $7 million advance on his memoir, “Decision Points.”


Lessons from the Presidents


There are some valuable lessons we can take away from reading the tax returns of current and former Presidents. First, despite their high incomes, many Presidents take advantage of every opportunity to defer income. President Obama made the maximum contribution to his retirement plans in 2009 and 2010, despite earning several million dollars.


It’s also important to keep charitable organizations in mind, as each President has made sizable contributions to various charities. Most of them rely on the generosity of the public in order to continue their great work. Donating even 5% of your more modest income can have an impact if you select the right local charities.



Apr 22, 2011 12:19AM
Hey unemployed American.  A simple Google search will turn up a full financial disclosure for every Member of Congress and many of their staff.  Complain less - research more.
Apr 21, 2011 7:31PM
What I would like to see is:

Full disclosure of annual salaries of ALL members of our government in Washington D.C.

Too daunting of a task you say ... when then, how about ALL those voted in to office?

Namely those in the House, Senate and (of course) our President PLUS his cabinet.

... It would be nice to make a living at those salaries.
Apr 22, 2011 12:59AM
So now Obama will go down in history as not only the worst president in U.S. history but also one of the wealthiest. I say we start by re-distributing his wealth not mine.
Apr 22, 2011 8:13PM
Here is one fact and it came from Obama himself!!! Educating people from other countries so we have well educated people.He didn't say after they get their education they go back and help their own countries then we are not continually bailing them out. I think it is a slap in the face to all Americans that we are not  smart enough.Then there is also the fact that a lot of terrorist were educated here in the US!!!
Apr 26, 2011 10:40AM
Of course Obama made more his first year; he is from Chicago.
Dec 18, 2011 2:16PM
acs68, I know econ real well, took 3 semesters of it. Not interested in progressive or regressive at all. I know that the folks that pay no federal taxes at all, mostly, are the biggest users of benefits provided. Sick of hearing --let the rich pay their fair share. Let EVERYBODY pay their fair share. Also, I'm a flat tax proponent and let everyone pay the same tax rate. I was an accounting major----took Federal income tax accounting also. What else do you want to know??? Attack the messenger?????  
Dec 18, 2011 6:10AM

BO is living the American dream, goes to Harvard on student loans, junior Senator from IL, POTUS. He's living his dream, but trying to take ours away from us. Punish the rich, make them pay. Anyone with a lick of sense can look at  what he's doing and call it what it is------class warfare. If it was simple math, he wouldn't have a leg to stand on. If 47-49% of the people pay no federal income tax, the other 50% pay it all for everyone. Redistribute what to whom?? How about transferring the tax that the 50% pay to the 1/2 that pay nothing???? Is that fair? Seems fair to me! I think his logic is flawed.    

Dec 18, 2011 12:37PM

waraksas - while it is true that many in this country do not pay federal taxes, critics of this fact conveniently ignore the reality that almost all pay social security, Medicare,etc - this amounts to

~15% and doesn't include   state sales and income taxes (half of SS and Medicare is paid by the employer but in effect this is money that could be paid to workers.)


These latter taxes are regressive (if you don't understand this reality and how it effects the lower earning population then you need to take some classes in economics!)


After $110,000+, individuals no longer have to pay into SS and Medicare. almost all individuals making over this amount and particularly those making in the millions have multiple legal (and illegal) means of writing off expenses. As a primary care physician, I have been in the higher categories of the taxable and have paid in many years

  $30- 50k in federal income taxes + SS, Medicare, state and sales taxes. I certainly take deductions available and put money into my IRA, but I have no problem with paying my fair share - I have benefitted from a country that allows one to do well with hard work.


I have no use for those who don't make an effort to find work and live off government welfare, but I think that most individuals, particularly in this economic downturn are not slackers.


Most individuals who are making substantial income either have inherited it or have worked in a country that has stability, relatively little corruption, good public schools (these could be improved substantially), and a functional legal system. Anyone who thinks they did it  all on their own are



I'm not a religious person, but doesn't  Christianity encourage us to help those that are poor, infirm, etc.



Apr 22, 2011 3:10PM
Well, "tell what you think", why don't you back up your statements with facts. No more guessing and assuming. Do the real research and lay out the facts (only the facts) and no one could ever challenge you. Facts seem to always missing from these discussions. I think both sides are loose with the facts but those on the right seem to have it as their marching orders. Can we help them all out?
Apr 22, 2011 11:34AM
Another thought has struck me since my first post.  Could the buyers of O'bamas books have a two fold reason?  The first reason I stated in my first post.  Could the second reason be that the buyers of those books are donating them to schools and libraries, in order to progress the Liberal agenda, and their line of thinking to others?
Apr 22, 2011 3:36PM
This is to you "farming4fun". Obama is no where near being the worst president. I think there is a line already in place. He has not come anywhere close to the others in that line (at least not yet). If you ever have a mind to do so, list a few things that make him so bad. Now, no cheating! You can't use any Republican talking points. Only the issues where you actually think he sucks based on how it truly impacts you. Leave all bias out.

For those who hate Obamacare, I think you really need to check out Paul Ryan's budget and see how that may impact us all. If some of his proposals become law, one day many of you may pray for Obamacare.

Something has to be done about medical costs. As usual, it is somewhere in the middle where the issue can be truly addressed. Medicare is a government program. If you don't like government programs, try not to take advantage of them. Don't use Medicare or Medicaid. Don't rely on Fema if there is a natural disaster. If you own a home, stop writing of the that pesky mortgage interest. Yep, that is that government subsidizing homes. Don't get me wrong, The government has many things that are wrong with it. Some things are right. Let's just fix what is wrong and enhance what is right.

Apr 21, 2011 10:36PM
I would like to see someone do a thorough investigation as to just who is buying all of those books O'bama has written.  I cannot imagine that many people wanting to read his book.  I also cannot believe his voters have the money to go out and pay the high price on those books.  His voters were mostly the lower income class.   I would not be at all surprised if those books are not being bought, by the truck load, and simply thrown away in order to award him his kick backs for favors rendered.  How does a man, who ran social programs in Chicago (one of the most Liberal and corrupt cities in the nation), become President?  That alone should tell us someone propped him up to be elected.   I think he has written three books.  How about it fellow O'bama haters.  Anyone up to the challenge?  If you can prove it out, it would be huge to expose him, for what he probably is.  I would almost bet, my assumption on this, is correct.
Apr 21, 2011 7:25PM
Bush, a Texas oil magnate, now refuses to supply income figures. Gas is $4 a gallon. hmmm....I just don't know to think!!!
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