David M. Rubenstein would like a ring back.
Rubenstein, the billionaire financier. The Carlyle Group co-founder who paid $23 million for a copy of the Magna Carta — then gifted it with great fanfare to the National Archives. The one-man philanthropic band who was spraying more than $100 million across Washington tourist stops from the Kennedy Center to the Washington Monument, from Ford’s Theater to the National Gallery of Art, from the White House to the Library of Congress. Even the pandas at the National Zoo avoided deportation thanks to Rubenstein’s largesse.
Rubenstein is the Monument Man.
“May I visit? he asked the effusive Bowman when she returned the call.
You could see her open arms all the way from George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, where Rubenstein was planning a $10 million gift to preserve the first president’s home.
“That would be absolutely wonderful,” Bowman said. “We can’t wait.”
Six months and a $10 million gift to Monticello later, Rubenstein — blue suited and red tied — is in his Carlyle second-floor office late in the afternoon on the first day of summer. The history buff and artifact junkie can be a chatterbox when relaxed, and he is especially expansive on a recent warm Friday. On his desk is the latest book on Abraham Lincoln. Research for another gift?
Aside from the bottle of Nantucket Nectars’s diet peach, there is little else in his office that tells you much about this ascetic vegetarian who, as a young lawyer, served as a White House domestic adviser to President Jimmy Carter. Rubenstein three decades ago saw the opportunities in leveraged buyouts, where companies were bought with borrowed money, rebuilt or improved, then sold for big profits. In 1987, he founded Carlyle Group with colleagues William E. Conway Jr. and Daniel A. D’Aniello, and all three became fabulously wealthy. They turned Carlyle into a multibillion-dollar, publicly traded financial services firm with investors across the planet.
At 63, Rubenstein has already given several hundred million dollars to charity. He has, along with Microsoft founder Bill Gates and legendary investor Warren Buffett and nearly 100 other wealthy citizens, pledged to give half his money away before he dies. A big part of that giving is his headline-making gifts aimed at American historical projects such as Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello — or what he calls his “patriotic philanthropy.”
“The patriotic philanthropy, the things I’ve done, quote, for the country, is honestly a modest amount of the money I’ve given away,” said Rubenstein, who has lectured on the Gettysburg Address. “Some people would say you are a great patriot. The patriots are the people who are the soldiers who have given their lives and their limbs. Writing a check is nice, but it’s not patriotic.”