MORE than three dozen billionaires, including well-known philanthropists such as David Rockefeller and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and less familiar big donors such as Lorry Lokey, founder of Business Wire, have promised at least half of their fortunes to charity, joining a program that Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett started in June to encourage other wealthy people to give.
The pledge has been a matter of debate in philanthropic circles, with experts dismissing it as a publicity stunt and others predicting that it would produce a flood of new money to support non-profit groups.
The program has predicted that it will draw $600 billion into philanthropy - or about twice the estimated total amount given by Americans last year - although Buffett acknowledged that some of the money would have been donated anyway: ''It's not like all or half of the money represented is added money - but some of it is added.''
He said he thought the real value of the pledge was found in the example that it set and in the sentiments expressed in the letters posted on the website.
Perhaps the biggest surprise on the list was Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle, who became the bad boy of philanthropy after he withdrew a $115 million gift from Harvard in protest over the resignation of Lawrence H. Summers as president.
In a brief note addressed ''To Whom It May Concern'', Ellison disclosed that he had assigned 95 per cent of his wealth to a trust and noted that he had given hundreds of millions of dollars away for medical research and education. ''Until now, I have done this giving quietly - because I have long believed that charitable giving is a personal and private matter,'' Ellison wrote. ''So why am I going public now? Warren Buffett personally asked me to write this letter because he said I would be 'setting an example' and 'influencing others' to give. I hope he's right.''
Buffett said the number of people who had agreed to sign on was at the high end of his expectations. He said some people who did not agree to sign the pledge were planning to give away most of their wealth but did not want to draw attention to those plans.
Some went on ''a tirade'' about the government and rising taxes, Buffett said - declining, of course, to name them.
''A few got into that, and there are some that have a dynastic attitude toward wealth,'' he said.
''That tends to be the case where they themselves inherited this money and maybe feel some sort of intergenerational compact about it.''
The rich list
Paul Allen; Laura and John Arnold, Michael Bloomberg, Eli and Edythe Broad, Warren Buffett, Michele Chan and Patrick Soon-Shiong, Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg, Ann and John Doerr, Larry Ellison, Bill and Melinda Gates, Barron Hilton, Jon and Karen Huntsman, Joan and Irwin Jacobs, George Kaiser, Elaine and Ken Langone, Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest, Lorry Lokey, George Lucas, Alfred Mann, Bernie and Billi Marcus, Thomas Monaghan, Tashia and John Morgridge, Pierre and Pam Omidyar, Bernard and Barbro Osher, Ronald Perelman, Peter Peterson, T. Boone Pickens, Julian Robertson jnr, David Rockefeller, David Rubenstein, Herb and Marion Sandler, Vicki and Roger Sant, Walter Scott, Jim and Marilyn Simons, Jeff Skoll, Tom Steyer and Kat Taylor, Jim and Virginia Stowers, Ted Turner, Sanford and Joan Weill and Shelby White.
NEW YORK TIMES