Buffett, Gates persuade 38 billionaires to donate half of wealth

By Alistair Barr

SAN FRANCISCO – Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett said Wednesday that 40 of America’s richest people publicly pledged to give away at least half their money to charity, a move that could pump about $60 billion into the world of philanthropy.

Joining Buffett and Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates in the pledge are Oracle Corp. CEO Larry Ellison; New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg; Tom Steyer, head of hedge fund firm Farallon Capital; and IAC/Interactive Corp. CEO Barry Diller.

The effort, known as The Giving Pledge, encourages the wealthiest individuals and families in America to commit to giving most of their money to philanthropic causes and charities, either during their lifetime or after their death. Each person who joins has to make the pledge publicly and release a letter explaining their decision. An annual event will bring the group together to share ideas.

Many of the people taking the step were already giving a lot of money to charity, but making public statements about their plans should encourage other rich people to do the same in the future, Buffett said.

Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates called 70 to 80 people on the list of the richest people published annually by Forbes magazine. Not including Gates and Buffett, 38 people signed up.

The Forbes Rich List represents roughly $1.2 trillion of wealth, and The Giving Pledge so far has gathered about 10 percent of the people listed, Buffett explained. If these people give half their money to charity, that would equal roughly $60 billion.

About six on the list raised privacy issues with Buffett. He said he convinced about three or four of those people that they were already “outed” by the Forbes list. He also argued that it’s important to make an example of what they are doing for others.

“It’s far more important that they tell people what they’re doing,” Buffett said. “It will influence other people 20, 30 years from now.”

Steyer, head of San Francisco-based Farallon Capital, one of the world’s largest hedge fund firms, said The Giving Pledge may improve the image of business leaders.

Business people “are pretty widely mistrusted and seen as overwhelmingly self-interested,” Steyer said. “The point is that business people are not just laboring for themselves. They have bigger responsibilities and belong to a wider community.”