Gates, Buffett tap billionaires for charity

By Donna Gordon Blankinship
Thursday, August 5, 2010; A02

Forty wealthy families and individuals have joined Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and billionaire investor Warren Buffett in a pledge to give at least half their wealth to charity.

Six weeks after beginning a campaign to get other billionaires to donate most of their fortunes, Buffett, the chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, released the first list Wednesday of people who have signed what he and Gates call the "giving pledge." Buffett decided in 2006 to give 99 percent of his fortune to charity. Then, he was worth about $44 billion. After years of investment returns while making annual gifts to five foundations, his fortune totals nearly $46 billion.

Bill and Melinda Gates do most of their philanthropic giving through their foundation, which had assets of $33 billion as of June 30 and has made at least $22.93 billion in grant commitments since 1994.

Buffett said he, the Gateses and others have made 70 to 80 calls to some of the nation's wealthiest people.

Those who agreed to the pledge are from 13 states, with the most participants in California and New York.

The list includes three people from the Washington area: David M. Rubenstein, and Roger and Vicki Sant.

Rubenstein is a Bethesda financier and co-founder of the Carlyle Group who ranks 123rd on the Forbes list of the 400 wealthiest Americans. Last fall, the magazine estimated his worth at $2.5 billion.

"This country has been so generous to my family," he said through a spokesman. "Hopefully, the pledge will encourage all Americans to consider increasing their own charitable giving."

Rubenstein has given away millions, much of it locally, including to the National Symphony Orchestra, the Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress. He recently became chairman of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, to which he has also donated millions.

Roger Sant founded the Arlington-based global power company AES. He and his wife, who is president of the family's Summit Foundation and Summit Fund of Washington, have given millions to the National Symphony Orchestra, the Smithsonian, the Phillips Collection, and efforts to reduce teenage pregnancy and restore the Anacostia River.

Among those who haven't signed on to the pledge, some prefer to keep their philanthropy anonymous, some were not available to talk, and others were not interested, Buffett said.

Many on the list will be asked to call others, and small dinners will be held nationwide in coming months to talk about the campaign.

Buffett said he and Bill Gates also will meet with groups of wealthy people in China and India within the next six months to talk about philanthropy. They hope the idea of generosity will spread, but they have no plans to lead a global campaign, he said.

Gates and Buffett estimate that their efforts could generate $600 billion in charitable giving. In 2009, U.S. philanthropies received a total of about $300 billion in donations, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

-- Associated Press

Staff writers Susan Kinzie and Thomas Heath contributed to this report.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company