David Rubenstein’s latest gift to D.C.: A gallery for the 1297 Magna Carta

There are a dozen billionaires living around Washington, but only one who’s become D.C.’s personal Daddy Warbucks: ..

The Carlyle Group co-founder is the go-to guy when it comes to big, historical projects: He gave $7.5 million to repair the Washington Monument, $75 million to the Kennedy Center, $4.5 million for the National Zoo pandas, and. . .well, you get the drift.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (right) and David M. Rubenstein (next to Pelosi) helped cut the ribbon during the opening of the Rubenstein Gallery at the National Archives. (Margot Schulman)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (right) and David M. Rubenstein (next to Pelosi) helped cut the ribbon during the opening of the Rubenstein Gallery at the National Archives. (Margot Schulman)

The latest beneficiary of his largess is the National Archives, which opened a new gallery in his name Wednesday night with one of the four surviving copies of the 1297 Magna Carta. Rubenstein paid $21.3 million for the document in 2007, then loaned it to the Archives and gave another $13. 5 million for a public space to showcase its history and influence.

The Magna Carta on display in the new David M. Rubenstein Gallery at the National Archives (Molly Riley/AP Photo)

The Magna Carta on display in the new David M. Rubenstein Gallery at the National Archives (Molly Riley/AP Photo)

“It was the inspiration for the drafters of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution,” Rubenstein told the VIPs (Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Pat Leahy, noted donors and historians) at the opening reception. The rights of these documents, he said, were originally granted to white, male property owners: “What’s happened over the ensuing 200 years is a struggle in our country to make these rights — that were said to be for everybody but really weren’t — actually for everybody.” The new exhibit, titled “Records of Rights,” explains how the basic principles first spelled out 800 years ago were then applied to civil rights, the women’s movement and immigrants.

Rubenstein, who’s worth an estimated $2.5 billion, told us he supports projects that he has a personal connection to (he loves books, documents and history) and where he can launch or complete a big endeavor. “I try to find things where my money can get it started and others will follow, or finish something. Obviously, I can’t do everything that comes to me, but I try to be as careful as I can in finding the kind of things I can help with.”

Buying the Magna Carta was right up his alley: Ross Perot put it up for auction and Rubenstein snapped it up to keep a copy in the United States. “It was the most important document in Western Civilization,” he said. But no, he can’t read the original and you probably can’t either: It’s written in itty bitty letters — in Medieval Latin.

Rubenstein said he would like to do more, but doesn’t have the resources of Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. But he was one of the first 40 signers of their “Giving Pledge” which requires him to donate at least half of his fortune to charity. So, yeah —good bet they’ll be more red ribbons to cut.

Guests observe the newest display at the opening of the Rubenstein Gallery at the National Archives on Wednesday, December 11, 2013 (Margot Schulman)

Guests observe the newest display at the opening of the Rubenstein Gallery at the National Archives on Wednesday, December 11, 2013 (Margot Schulman)

 

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