Warren Buffett, Bill Gates ask billionaires to give away wealth

NEW YORK Wed Jun 16, 2010 5:42pm EDT

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett (R) and Microsoft Corporation founder Bill Gates (L) appear together for a town hall style meeting with business students broadcast by financial television network CNBC at Columbia University in New York, November 12, 2009. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett (R) and Microsoft Corporation founder Bill Gates (L) appear together for a town hall style meeting with business students broadcast by financial television network CNBC at Columbia University in New York, November 12, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Investor Warren Buffett and Microsoft (MSFT.O) founder Bill Gates announced on Wednesday that they are asking hundreds of billionaire Americans to give away at least 50 percent of their wealth to charity.

Buffett, who made his fortune with insurance and investment company Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N) (BRKb.N), Gates and his wife, Melinda, have held a series of dinners with a couple dozen rich Americans in the past year to urge them to make a philanthropic pledge.

They have named the campaign the Giving Pledge and are asking those who commit to giving away at least half their fortune during their lifetime or after their death to publicly state their intention with a letter explaining their decision.

Patty Stonesifer, a former chief executive of the Gates Foundation and now adviser to Gates and Buffett, said that four families had agreed to announce their pledge on Wednesday -- real estate and construction billionaire Eli Broad, venture capitalist John Doerr, media entrepreneur Gerry Lenfest and former Cisco Systems (CSCO.O) Chairman John Morgridge.

Broad and his wife Edythe said in a statement that they will pledge to give away 75 percent of their wealth during and after their lifetime. Forbes has estimated Broad to be worth $5.7 billion.

"We agree with Andrew Carnegie's wisdom that 'The man who dies rich, dies disgraced,' and we also believe 'he who gives while he lives also knows where it goes,'" the couple said. "Philanthropy is unbelievably rewarding."

Lenfest has already given away more than $800 million, or about 65 percent of his fortune, a spokeswoman said. The amount pledged by Doerr and Morgridge was not immediately available.

In a letter posted on the campaign's website, www.givingpledge.org, Buffett said he "couldn't be happier" with his 2006 decision to give away 99 percent of his wealth to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and family charities.

"Now, Bill and Melinda Gates and I are asking hundreds of rich Americans to pledge at least 50 percent of their wealth to charity," Buffett, 79, said.

He said that so far about 20 percent of his Berkshire Hathaway shares, including shares given by his late wife Susan, had been distributed to charity and that he would continue to distribute annually 4 percent of the shares he retains.

SPENDING ON CURRENT NEEDS

"At the latest, the proceeds from all of my Berkshire shares will be expended for philanthropic purposes by 10 years after my estate is settled. Nothing will go to endowments; I want the money spent on current needs," Buffett wrote.

Gates was ranked the second richest man in the world by Forbes magazine this year with $53 billion, while Buffett came in at No. 3 with $47 billion. Forbes said the United States is home to 403 billionaires, the most in the world.

Bill and Melinda Gates have so far given more than $28 billion to their foundation. Since the foundation began in 1994 it has given away more than $22 billion for health improvements in poor countries and to improve access for Americans to opportunities they need to succeed in school and life.

The Giving Pledge will not accept any money; it is simply asking billionaires to make a moral commitment to give away their wealth to charity.

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Comments (56)
Osomec wrote:
Nothing for endowments? Not a good idea. Giving the money away effectively means giving control over the underlying companies to Wall Street, which will make things worse, not better. One of the main reasons capitalism has degenerated so much is that the corporations are now controlled by speculators without any long term vision or sense of social responsibility instead of by private individuals. Only a mass transfer of control to endowments can counteract this problem.

Jun 16, 2010 2:59pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
rrey0306 wrote:
Yes, lets chastise ambitious individuals who are donating BILLIONS of dollars to those in need, the world would be a much better place without people like them….honestly dude…..wake up

Jun 16, 2010 3:01pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
playinpearls wrote:
“The surest way to level the playing field again is through a revolution and hang these SOBs from piano wire. I’ve had enough of trickle down…I mean tricked on economics!”

yeah, that sounds great. Lets hang all the people that build companies to give YOU a job. Hope that works out for ya.

This is the stupidest comment I’ve ever read.

Jun 16, 2010 3:09pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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