37

I found this on Facebook:

JFK image with donation claim

It claims that:

During his presidency, John F. Kennedy never collected his salary of $150,000 a year. Instead, he donated the full amount to charity.

Initial googling seems to support his charity, but that amount seems to me like a rather high salary for the 1960s.

  • It would have been illegal to donate more than $100,000 of "salary", because the other $50,000, by law is "expense allowance of $50,000 to assist in defraying expenses relating to or resulting from the discharge of his official duties" 3 U.S.C. § 102 law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/3/102 – DavePhD May 21 '15 at 13:58
  • Not everything on Facebook is notable. Can you defend placing this claim? – Mast May 22 '15 at 9:11
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    @Mast The image has only 376 hits on Google, but this tweet has over 3k favorites and 1k retweets, and GoogleFacts' (though only at 968 favs) sounds authoritative. I'm not sure how popular other sources like this site are. – Cees Timmerman May 22 '15 at 9:24
  • @RobertRose Not even verified accounts? – Cees Timmerman May 28 '15 at 6:24
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Drexel University validates the amount:

Presidential Salary: $100,000/year + $50,000 expense account (refused by Kennedy)

As DavePhD pointed out, that $50,000 could only be spent on presidential business, so the full amount that JFK could donate from his presidential salary was 100,000 minus taxes.

The History Channel backs up the claim that he donated his full presidential income:

6. He donated his congressional and presidential salaries to charity.

Kennedy’s father built a family fortune, and when the young politician entered Congress in 1947, he earned sufficiently ample annual income from trusts established by his father that he decided to donate his entire legislative salary to various charities. Kennedy quietly maintained the practice as president after becoming the richest man to ever take the oath of office.

As The History Channel isn't focused on facts anymore, here's a list of supporting book quotes from this page:

"A millionaire by age twenty-one, Kennedy was our wealthiest President. The only President besides George Washington to decline his salary, he donated his to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, the United Negro College Fund and Jewish organizations." From: Page 67 "Lives of the Presidents: Fame, Shame (and What the Neighbors Thought)" by Kathleen Krull, read using the "search inside" feature at Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/015200808X/

"His $100,000 salary as President was being divided, after taxes, among two dozen charities, including the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America, the United Negro College Fund, and the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies. The schedule of contributions was worked out each year during a short money meeting Kennedy had with a family accountant named Thomas Walsh." From: Page 428 "PRESIDENT KENNEDY: PROFILE OF POWER" by Richard Reeves, read using the "search inside" feature at Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0671892894/

"He donated his entire presidential salary of $100,000 to charity, ranging from hospitals to the Boy and Girl Scouts, to Jewish philanthropies and retarded children's associations. In 1962, however, he chose to make what were clearly strategically political contributions with his private funds?the United Negro College Fund and the Cuban Families Committee." From: Page 95 "The Kennedy White House : Family Life and Pictures, 1961-1963" by Carl Sferrazza Anthony, read using the "search inside" feature at Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0743214730/

As for being a lot of money for that time: 100,000 USD in 1962 would have the same purchasing power as 783,894 USD in 2014. Yet nominally, it would still be worth only 100,000 USD.

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    yearly presidential income ballooned from $25,000 in 1789 to $450,000 in 2001 <--- this is misleading, since according to a few places I found that $25k in 1789 is considerably more when converted to 2001 dollars. – enderland May 21 '15 at 13:14
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    @CeesTimmerman The page you linked makes clear that $25,000 in 1789 may well be worth more than the current day salary, and the historical salaries for which inflation is easier to calculate are worth considerably more "$200,000 in 1969 would be about $900,000". I think your wording is extremely misleading. – MJeffryes May 21 '15 at 14:39
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    That's like saying that 2 feet are more than 1 meter. It is only true insofar as it is meaningless. – Aaron Dufour May 21 '15 at 17:16
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    @CeesTimmerman One could argue that since the purchasing power of the dollar is so different in the two timeframes, 1789 dollars and 2001 dollars are also different units. – ghoppe May 21 '15 at 17:25
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    Exactly. 1789 dollars and 2001 dollars are different units, too. – Aaron Dufour May 21 '15 at 17:26
0

JFK's Net Worth and Context

Missing from this is context. JFK was a billionaire. He was the second richest president of the USA ever (after Trump). According to Fortune, JFK's dad Joseph, was 9-16th richest person in America in 1957. From Wikpedia,

When Fortune magazine published its first list of the richest people in the United States in 1957, it placed Joseph in the $200–400 million group ($1.74 billion–3.49 billion today), meaning he was somewhere between the ninth and sixteenth richest persons in the United States.

For reference, JFK was elected in 1961.

It's not all that different from Trump himself. From the same source above, Motley Fool, Trump is worth four times as much as Kennedy but has also promised and thus far donated his presidential salary. Outside of the presidency, and the small charitable contribution, it's not all that much different from Steve Jobs who made the choice to work for $1/year. Presidents and CEOs receive other benefits than merely a payroll salary (like stock options, fame, and power).

At some point, giving away the peanuts is simply worth the positive publicity, and if we keep it about material wealth and not about it being symbolically his "salary" the claim is pretty meek. With a Net Worth of 200-400 million, we're essentially saying, presidential candidate promises to give 0.125% - 0.25% of his Net Worth if elected over four years.

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