New York, January 22:
Top 15 charitable gifts in US last year totalled $35 billion - Nike chairman gave $105m to business school His day job may be balancing the books of the worldâ€™s only superpower. But the US treasury secretary, Hank Paulson, wants his legacy to be elsewhere - in prairie conservation, wetland protection and preserving threatened species of birds.
It emerged this week that Paulson, a former chief executive of the Wall Street bank Goldman Sachs, is to give his entire $800m fortune to charity.
His largesse is part of a surge in philanthropy by Americaâ€™s super-rich, sparked in part by the worldâ€™s second richest man, Warren Buffett, who last year set an example by committing 85 per cent of his $45 billion bank balance to the healthcare foundation established by Microsoftâ€™s Bill Gates. Recruited by the Bush administration in July, Paulson, 60, has several attributes in common with his boss in the Oval office - he is a teetotal, non-smoking Christian with a firm belief in the free market and the benefits of rigorous exercise.
He spends his free time bird-watching, fishing and hiking. He spends his holidays admiring wildlife in remote regions such as the Amazonian rainforests and Chinaâ€™s south-western Yunnan province. The Treasury declined to comment on Paulsonâ€™s philanthropic endeavours.
But last year, he transferred $100m of his Goldman Sachs shares to a personal charitable vehicle, the Bobolink Foundation, which has made grants to the Rainforest Alliance, American Bird Conservancy and Rails to Trails - a body concerned with turning old railways into footpaths. A former colleague said, â€œHeâ€™s from the American midwest and heâ€™s always been interested in conservation - he and his wife have spent a lot of time, effort and money on it.â€
Paulson is not alone. According to the US Chronicle of Philanthropy, the top 15 charitable gifts in America last year amounted to $35 billion (which includes an instalment of Buffettâ€™s gift), eclipsing the $2 billion total in 2005 and the $4.4 billion raised in 2004. There were 14 gifts last year of more than $100m -the highest number ever.
Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, said, â€œOnce you have someone like Warren Buffett giving all his money away while heâ€™s still alive, many others start thinking about doing the same.â€ Paulson, who has a son and a daughter, has said in the past he â€œloves his children too muchâ€ to give them all his money. Other big recent gifts include a $105m handout by Nikeâ€™s chairman, Philip Knight, to a Californian business school and a $100m donation by Oracle computer boss Larry Ellison to medical causes.
On Wall Street, the 73-year-old former chairman of Citigroup, Sandy Weill, declared in an in-house magazine last year that he intended to give away his $1.4 billion as part of a â€œdeal with Godâ€. Arthur Brooks, a philanthropy expert at Syracuse Universityâ€™s Maxwell School of Citizenship, said, â€œIncome inequality is screaming up in America - not because the poor are getting poorer but because the rich are getting richer, faster. Iâ€™d like to think thereâ€™s more and more societal pressure for philanthropy.â€