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National Perspective | Charity

Giants of Generosity Get Their Due

In a counterpoint to the Forbes 400 index of wealth, an Internet magazine publishes a list of the year's top philanthropists.

December 25, 1996|DOYLE MCMANUS | TIMES WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF

WASHINGTON — If it's more blessed to give than to receive, how come we know the names of the glitziest and wealthiest Americans--but not the most generous?

Well, move over, Madonna. Step aside, Michael Jordan. Wipe that smile off your face, Michael Ovitz.

Charitable giving just got a lot more glamorous--and you small-timers aren't even on the list.

Slate magazine, Microsoft's venture into online publishing, has listed the names of America's most generous. The scale of their philanthropy is breathtaking: a $5-million gift was the minimum to qualify. And most of them are people you never even heard of. (This year's champions: Samuel and Aline Skaggs of Salt Lake City, who gave $100 million to the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego.)

It all started last summer, when media mogul Ted Turner complained that Forbes magazine's annual list of the 400 wealthiest Americans was "destroying our country." Turner said tycoons hesitated to give money away for fear of slipping in the wealth standings. Being generous is nice, he said in effect, but for those tycoons, being notoriously rich is even nicer.

Slate magazine stepped into the breach and asked a former Harvard University fund-raiser, Ann Castle, to compile a list of the largest charitable contributions of the year. Happily, it turns out, American philanthropy is alive and well--among at least some of the super-rich. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, for example, made the top 10 by giving $27 million to Harvard and the University of Washington.

The Slate list has some flaws, which Castle acknowledges. It only counts contributions that are announced publicly; anonymous philanthropy--the noblest kind--isn't ranked. And it only counts donations made during the current year, so cumulative generosity doesn't figure. Turner, for example, has given more than $200 million to various causes, but most of it was before 1996, so he isn't on the list. Nor is the reigning champion of American charity, publishing magnate Walter H. Annenberg, who has given away more than $1 billion in his 88 years on Earth.

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Still, it's an intriguing exercise. It suggests that some of the new billionaires who made their fortunes in computers and entertainment are finally stepping up to the philanthropic plate. And it shows that when wealthy Americans give, they tend to give to universities, medical research centers and cultural institutions--not organizations to help the poor.

Here are the top 10 givers nationwide, as well as other California gifts that made the top 60:

1. L.S. and Aline Skaggs: $100 million to San Diego's Scripps Research Institute from a Utah grocery magnate and his wife.

2. George Soros: "Nearly $100 million," including $50 million to create the Emma Lazarus Fund to help legal immigrants become U.S. citizens and at least $35 million to charitable projects in Russia, from a Hungarian-born investment wizard.

3. Klaus G. and Amelia Perls: $60 million-plus worth of 20th century art to New York's Metropolitan Museum, including works by Picasso, Modigliani and Braque, from a pair of Manhattan art dealers and collectors.

4. Robert W. Galvin: $60 million pledged to the Illinois Institute of Technology from the chairman of Motorola Inc.

5. The Robert A. and Jay A. Pritzker Families: $60 million pledged to the Illinois Institute of Technology from a family of successful Chicagoans.

6. The Gonda Family: $45 million to UCLA to create a neuroscience and genetics research center, from a Southern California family.

7. Richard Fisher, Leon Levy and Susan Soros: $42 million to New York's Bard College from three of the school's trustees--two investment bankers and the wife of No. 2 donor George Soros.

8. The Ted Arison Family: $40 million worth of Carnival Corp. stock to Miami's New World Symphony, from the founders of the cruise line.

9. Robert M. and Anne Bass: $30 million, including $20 million to Yale University and $10 million to Duke University, from one branch of a Texas oil family.

10. Bill Gates: $27 million, including $15 million to Harvard and $12 million to the University of Washington, from the chairman of Microsoft.

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Other California gifts include:

18. The Pigott, Braun and Lane Families: $20 million to Stanford University for reconstruction of buildings damaged in the 1988 Loma Prieta earthquake, from three Stanford alumni families.

21. Chong-Moon Lee: $15 million to turn the old San Francisco Public Library into a new center for Asian art, from a San Jose businessman.

27. George L. and Reva Graziadio: $15 million for Pepperdine University, from the head of Imperial Bancorp and his wife.

29. Gordon E. and Betty Moore: $15 million to UC Berkeley, for a new materials science initiative, from the chairman of Intel Corp.

34. Rubin Brown: $12 million to the UCLA Children's Hospital, from the owner of Excel Electric, an electronics wholesale business.

60. Anthony Capozzolo: $5 million to USC for performing arts programs from a retired choreographer and producer.

64. David Geffen: $5 million to remake the Temporary Contemporary into the "Geffen Contemporary at MOCA," from an entertainment mogul.

68. Charles and Jean Schultz: $5 million to Sonoma State University, from the creator of "Peanuts" and his wife.

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