Is The Gates-Buffett Pledge Really Spurring New Giving? [News Report]

by Avinash Saxena

Today 10 new tycoons signed on to the Gates-Buffett Giving Pledge, the promise that 69 super wealthy folks have made to give away at least half their wealth to charitable causes. But a recent discussion among some of the Giving Pledge members raised some questions. Are Bill Gates and Warren Buffett mostly signing up folks who’ve already given away huge chunks of their fortune –or made plans to do that?

When Warren Buffett called Business Wire founder Lorry Lokey and asked him to join signed the Giving Pledge, Lokey says he told Buffett, “Warren, you’re late. I already gave it.” Buffett didn’t mind, according to Lokey, whom I met at a conference called the Global Philanthropy Forum. “Buffett said, ‘That’s why we want you aboard,’” Lokey recalled. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway bought Lokey’s Business Wire for an undisclosed price in the hundreds of millions of dollars in 2006.  Lokey told me he’s given away $670 million, primarily to universities and high schools in California, Oregon and Israel. All of that was given or pledged before Buffett called Lokey last year.

John and Tashia Morgridge similarly were big into philanthropy long before the Giving Pledge. John Morgridge, a billionaire, became chief executive of Cisco Systems in 1988, took it public in 1990, and later served as the company’s chairman. He and his wife Tashia have been giving away bits of their wealth for 25 years, as this Cap Times articlepoints out. During a panel discussion about the Giving Pledge at the Global Philanthropy Forum on April 14, Tashia Morgridge explained, “We’d already been giving away a lot of our wealth and intended to give away a lot of it.” Much of the Morgridges’ giving has gone to educational institutions in Wisconsin and to environmental conservation.

Other billionaires on the list who were giving in a big way before they joined the Pledge include AOL founder Steve Case, who created the Case Foundation with his wife Jean in 1997; and CNN founder Ted Turner, who famously pledged in 1997 to give the United Nations $1 billion over 10 years.

Meanwhile, some members of the audience listening to the panel grumbled about the fact that these big givers tend to give to the same sorts of causes, like putting their names on buildings at universities (Lokey contributed $75 million toward a new $200 million stem cell research building at Stanford), which don’t do much for solving issues of poverty or feeding the hungriest.

When asked why Giving Pledge members give more to universities than social service organizations, John Morgridge replied that “You can’t give large sums to those social service organizations … Most of us give small sums to those social service [groups].”

John Morgridge and Lokey both expressed dismay at the number of superrich who don’t see the need to share their fortunes. “This Valley has a lot of wealth. For my case, the disproportionate amount is spent on homes that they live in for two weeks a year,” Morgridge said during the panel.

Added Lokey: “We’ve got all kinds of billionaires sitting on their rear ends doing nothing.”

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