Discuss as:

In race to be most generous, Romney leads

When it comes to donating to charity and church, Mitt Romney is the man to beat.  

The release this week of the GOP candidate's tax records cast a spotlight on his considerable wealth, but it also revealed the extent of his generosity.

The records show Romney and his wife, Ann, contributed $7 million in charity over the tax years 2010 and 2011, much of it going to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Romney earned $42.5 million during that period, which means he gave away roughly 16.5 percent of his income. He also paid out $6.2 million in taxes.

On both a percentage and an actual basis, Romney gave away more money than his chief rival for the GOP nomination, Newt Gingrich. He also donated more than President Obama, although the Democrat was not too far behind.

The average person donates 2 to 3 percent of his or her income to charity, experts say. For those who earn $10 million or more, the rate is 6.5 percent, said Joseph J. Thorndike, director of the Tax History Project at Tax Analysts.

"He's pretty generous, and no one can fault Romney for his level of giving," Thorndike told msnbc.com.

"It's remarkable," added Russell James, director of graduate studies in charitable planning at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. “I have never seen giving at the level Romney is giving at."

A look at others:

  • Obama and his wife, Michelle, donated $245,000, or 14.4 percent, of their $1.7 million total income to 36 different charities, according to IRS documents. The Fisher House Foundation, the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America were among the listed charities. It was the president's highest rate of giving, experts say, adding that Obama's giving has been keeping pace with the increase in earnings from best-selling books. In 2005, Obama's donations jumped to $77,315, 4.7 percent the family's income, and $60,307 (6.1 percent) in 2006. From 2000 through 2004, however, the then-Illinois senator and his wife had donated about 1 percent of their annual earnings, according to The New York Times and TaxProf Blog.
  • Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, donated $5,350 (1.3 percent) of their $379,178 adjusted gross income to charity in 2010.

“Ever since Nixon, presidents and their taxes have been in the spotlight,” Thorndike told msnbc.com. “I’m sure he didn’t know he was going to start the tradition of releasing records, returns that were going to be pored over and read. Since then, there’s also been a strong incentive to not look cheap.”

For the record, former President Richard Nixon reported donating $295 to charity and church in 1972, according to the tax project. That's one-tenth of one percent of his annual adjusted income of $268,777 for that year.

Click below to view tax records of the various candidates (pdf):

More content from msnbc.com and NBC News