There are fewer billionaires in these tough economic times, so one might imagine that the remaining ones would attract more attention when they moved en masse. Yet when some of America’s most prominent capitalists met earlier this month at Rockefeller University, it took weeks before anyone noticed.
The secrecy continued even after IrishCentral.com, a Web site focused on Irish-American news, wrote on Monday about the May 5 gathering, reporting that the group discussed charitable giving.
Participants steadfastly refused to reveal details about the meeting, citing an agreement to protect the confidentiality of the discussion.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who was there, revealed little in a brusque response to a question on Wednesday afternoon. “Anytime I have a meeting that’s not on the public schedule, it’s not going to be on the public schedule,” he said.
Spokesmen for the other participants declined to comment.
The silence fed the conspiracy theories that so often emerge when powerful people meet behind closed doors, particularly when the invitation list seems pulled from the Forbes rankings of the world’s wealthiest people.
The group included Bill Gates (1); Warren E. Buffett (2); Mayor Bloomberg (17); George Soros (29); the real estate developer Eli Broad (93) and his wife, Edythe; Oprah Winfrey (234); David Rockefeller Sr. (305) and his son David Rockefeller Jr.; Ted Turner (376); Peter G. Peterson (430), co-founder of the Blackstone Group, the private equity firm; Julian H. Robertson Jr. (559), who ran a prominent hedge fund; and John P. Morgridge (647), former chairman of Cisco Systems, and his wife, Tashia.
Based on February estimates by Forbes, the room had a net worth of about $120 billion, or nearly as much as New York State’s annual budget.
The participants have reputations as outsize philanthropists, and many have teamed up on causes. Mr. Buffet, for example, recently pledged to donate the bulk of his fortune, currently estimated at $37 billion, to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Together, the men and women at the meeting had donated more than $72.5 billion to charitable causes since 1996, according to an estimate by The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
On Wednesday afternoon, the silence was finally broken when one of the participants, Patricia Q. Stonesifer, former chief executive of the Gates Foundation and current chairwoman of the Smithsonian Institution, said the others had been concerned about privacy, not secrecy.
“Various members of the group have been talking about philanthropy,” she said. “This is a time when the needs are great. So it seemed like a really good time to get together.”
The event was jointly conceived by Mr. Buffett, Mr. Gates and the elder Mr. Rockefeller, Ms. Stonesifer said. “This was the first time this particular group had come together and shared a table,” she said, but added that with their charitable activities and general prominence, “the degrees of separation were few.”
The gathering started at 3 p.m. on May 5 and lasted through dinner, and was held at the Rockefeller University president’s residence on the Upper East Side campus, said Joseph Bonner, a university spokesman. The president, Paul Nurse, was out of town; the university became involved when the elder Mr. Rockefeller, its former chairman, asked that it provide space for the meeting, Mr. Bonner said.
The discussions centered on charitable giving, and participants talked about their personal causes, told of lessons they had learned, and suggested ways to improve and increase philanthropic efforts, Ms. Stonesifer said.
“There wasn’t a set agenda. It was a discussion,” Ms. Stonesifer said. “The areas of discussion were as varied as the individuals there and their interests.”
No specific plans came out of the meeting, nor were plans made to meet again, Ms. Stonesifer said, adding, “They really all wanted to continue that dialogue.”Related Links
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