OC Leader Board: Why I Give What I Give, and Why You Should Too

The travails of the “rich” have always been something of a spectator sport. While some might accuse me of being part of that lofty club, to paraphrase Groucho Marx, I wouldn’t want to be a member of any club that admits me. I’m not sure they’d want me anyway after I once advocated for increased taxes on the wealthy, citing no less an authority than Warren Buffett.

On the topic of wealth, I mused in one of my monthly Investment Outlooks in 2007, when is enough, enough? My concern then was that when the fruits of society’s labor become maldistributed, when the rich get richer and the middle and lower classes struggle, then the system ultimately breaks down. Inequity has always been a part of human existence, but the gulf seems wider now between the haves and have-nots than it has ever been.

In anticipation of the righteous indignation of the 1%, I acknowledged their argument that many believe they can more efficiently redistribute wealth than the government via taxes. But, as I noted, the inefficiencies of wealth redistribution by the Forbes 400 mega-rich are perhaps as egregious and wasteful as the government, if not more. Trust funds for kids, inheritances for grandkids, multiple vacation homes, private planes, and ego-rich donations to local art museums and concert halls are but a few of the ways that rich people waste money—and, I admitted, I am guilty of at least one, maybe more—items on this short list of sins. I have, however, avoided the last one. As I wrote then, a $30 million gift for a concert hall is not philanthropy—it is a Napoleonic coronation.

I’d like to think I was more prescient in that column on the impending market collapse, when the Dow was peaking at close to 14,000, before falling to less than half that over the next 19 months or so. But fate would have it that I’m more remembered for my call to soak the rich than to help investors get rich.

As for my own philanthropy, I have endeavored to put my money where my mouth is, giving more toward direct action. Yes, there are a few medical buildings with my name plastered on them, and the Smithsonian’s William H. Gross Stamp Gallery in Washington, which is more guilty pleasure than indulgence for which I apologize to no one and which allows the public to view some of my collection. But the bulk of my giving has gone toward organizations that provide healthcare, humanitarian relief, education, and community support. In other words, groups that have a ground game and provide direct assistance to urgent causes.

With exceptions such as Doctors Without Borders and Mercy Ships, I like to keep my giving local. Orange County is my home. It’s where I raised a family, built a business, and earned enough money to share it with causes I believe in. I literally see the fruits of my labors in the Laguna Food Pantry, the OC Food Bank, the CHOC Foundation, the Orange County Teachers of the Year awards, and many other organizations that enrich and support Orange County.