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Buffett, Gates Press Billionaires to Pledge 50% to Charity

Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are pressing fellow billionaires to commit at least half their wealth to charity in an effort to draw attention on the responsibilities the wealthiest have for aiding the needy.

Buffett and Gates started a drive called “The Giving Pledge” to encourage high-profile philanthropic promises, according to the initiative’s website. A pledge of the majority of an individual’s fortune is “an understandable and quite reachable bar for the wealthiest -- many will exceed it,” according to a document posted on the website.

Buffett, the world’s third-richest person and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., has pledged more than 99 percent of his wealth to philanthropy. The greatest part of his fortune, estimated in March at $47 billion by Forbes magazine, is being given in annual installments to the foundation established by Microsoft Corp. co-founder Gates and his wife Melinda Gates.

“Bill and Melinda Gates and I are asking hundreds of rich Americans to pledge at least 50 percent of their wealth to charity,” Buffett wrote today in a pledge on Fortune’s website. Buffett said 1 percent of his wealth is enough for him and his family, and “neither our happiness nor our well-being would be enhanced” by keeping more.

The initiative kicked off with a meeting in New York on May 5, 2009, that was organized by the Gateses, Fortune magazine reported, citing interviews with the couple and Buffett. The leaders of the effort may have a minimum goal of about $600 billion in commitments, Fortune said, based on the calculation of half of the $1.2 trillion in net worth of the 400 richest individuals compiled by Forbes magazine.

‘The Giving Pledge’

“It would easily double or triple the amount of philanthropy in America,” said Melissa Berman, president of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, a non-profit organization that has advised the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on “The Giving Pledge” initiative.

“If we would be able to get this influx for philanthropy from billionaires, it would inspire other Americans,” she said in an interview today. “And then we could really change what the world is like.”

The idea to assemble a group of billionaire philanthropists to discuss strategies and encourage giving was Buffett’s, Fortune said. The meeting was hosted by David Rockefeller and included George Soros, Oprah Winfrey and Michael Bloomberg.

Bill Gates ranks second on the Forbes list of billionaires. Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, is the majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News.

The Gates Foundation, with an endowment of about $35 billion, combats disease and global poverty, and funds U.S. education initiatives.

Those who take the pledge are invited to pick the causes that they fund. The effort will initially focus on U.S. billionaires and may expand to other countries.

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