A Season of Giving for the Mega-Rich

THE GIVING PLEDGE’S first 40 signers had their issues, too. Mr. Icahn follows two other iconic corporate raiders, Ron Perelman and T. Boone Pickens, just as Mr. Forstmann was preceded by the buyout billionaires David Rubenstein and Pete Peterson. And Premier Bankcard’s Mr. Sanford signed on after Herb and Marion Sandler, who made about $2.3 billion when Wachovia bought their World Savings Bank, one of the housing bubble’s most aggressive lenders. Another subprime icon, the former Citi CEO and chairman Sandy Weill, was in the first wave, too.

A different kind of mortgage legend, Jeff Greene, is in the second. Though he recently ran for a U.S. Senate seat in Florida, Mr. Greene is the California real estate magnate who managed to personally use credit default swaps to bet against the housing market, copying his friend John Paulson’s strategy. “I tend to be pretty conservative in the way I spend money,” he told The Journal in 2008, while describing the Peruvian-carved lions framing the fireplace in his 40,000-square-foot mansion, Palazzo di Amore. Its art includes a “dark metal rendering of a dollar bill.”

In a letter to Mr. Buffett confirming his pledge, publicly available on the group’s Web site, Mr. Greene wrote that he didn’t participate in the first round because of his Florida campaign, which he lost, because “it would have looked like I was trying to exploit this for political gain.”

Likewise, Ted Turner’s letter says he’s “been quietly doing my own version” of the pledge for years, but had “always believed that you don’t really talk about giving; you just do it.” Mayor Bloomberg, he says, convinced him that going public would encourage others. Mr. Turner’s letter recounts a story about the night he won the 1997 Man of the Year award from the United Nations Association.

But Mr. Icahn’s goes back further. It says he won the Starlight Foundation’s 1990 Man of the Year Award, was named the Guardian Angel 2001 Man of the Year and also got the 100 Women in Hedge Funds Effecting Change Award. “I never considered going public with my intentions,” Mr. Icahn’s says. “However, I certainly see the value of a project that encourages wealthy individuals to step forward and commit to use their wealth for the common good.”

In the Home Depot co-founder’s letter, Mr. Marcus writes Mr. Buffett to thank him for a call about the pledge, which “brought back memories of our conversation 15 years ago when I tried to convince you to do the very same thing.”

“The pledge was founded on the belief that a group coming forward to be explicit about their giving will help inspire conversations on the subject,” a Giving Pledge spokesperson said, “both about how much to give as well as for what purposes and to what end.”

On Friday, sitting on the Jersey train, Mr. Cooperman happened to joke that the conductor about to take his ticket might throw him from the train. She did: The train he was sitting on was going to stop in Newark, which was where he was headed, but he was supposed to be on another train. “Are you serious? Is there a difference in price?” he said. “They’re evicting me. Should I tell them I’m doing the Giving Pledge?”

mabelson@observer.com

A Season of Giving for the Mega-Rich