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Warren Buffett resigns from Gates Foundation, donates $4.1 billion

Richest Americans have a low "true tax rate"
Richest Americans have a low "true tax rate" 01:05

Warren Buffett said he is stepping down from his role with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, noting in a statement that he has been an "inactive" trustee of the organization. His decision to step down comes at an uncertain time for the foundation as the Gates last month announced they are divorcing after 27 years of marriage.

"For years I have been a trustee — an inactive trustee at that — of only one recipient of my funds, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMG)," Buffett wrote in the statement. "I am now resigning from that post, just as I have done at all corporate boards other than Berkshire's," or Berkshire Hathaway, the company which Buffett helms.

The 90-year-old billionaire on Wednesday also said he has given away $4.1 billion's worth of Berkshire Hathaway shares as part of his goal to donate 99% of his fortune. With the most recent donation, Buffett said he is "halfway there," and he shared his thoughts on wealth and philanthropy in the statement.

"Over many decades I have accumulated an almost incomprehensible sum simply by doing what I love to do," Buffett wrote. "Compound interest, a long runway, wonderful associates and our incredible country have simply worked their magic. Society has a use for my money; I don't."

Buffett said he is donating the $4.1 billion in shares to five foundations, though the lion's share went to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMG). The BMG received more than $3.2 billion, bringing his total giving to the foundation to nearly $33 billion, BMG CEO Mark Suzman said in a statement.

"I know Warren's departure raises questions about the foundation's governance," Suzman said, adding he has been "actively discussing with him, Bill, and Melinda approaches to strengthen our governance to provide long-term stability and sustainability for the foundation's governance and decision-making in light of the recent announcement of Bill and Melinda's divorce. I plan to share additional information in July."

Bill Gates, who co-founded Microsoft in 1975, is the fourth richest person in the world and has a net worth of $145 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Last March, he stepped down from his role on Microsoft's board of directors to focus solely on his work with the foundation.

Buffett is the world's eighth-richest person, with a net worth of $105 billion, according to Bloomberg.

Buffett: Congress should review tax policy

In his statement, Buffett added that philanthropic donations are now a "hot topic" due to the tax benefits that the wealthy accrue from such gifts. Buffett said that he believes Congress should revisit tax policies for donations, an issue that is part of a wider discussion of tax breaks for the wealthy. Earlier this month, a ProPublica report found that the richest 25 people in the U.S. have a "true tax rate" of almost nothing, including Warren Buffett.

Using perfectly legal tax strategies, the report said Buffett paid less than 10 cents for every $100 he added to his wealth from 2014-2018. Buffett, for his part, has long advocated for an overhaul of the U.S. tax system, noting that his secretary pays a higher tax rate than the multibillionaire since his income derives mostly from capital gains and investments — which are taxed at a lower rate than income.

"Tax deductions are important to many — particularly to the super-rich — who give large amounts of cash or securities to philanthropy," Buffett wrote. "It is fitting that Congress periodically revisits the tax policy for charitable contributions, particularly in respect to donors who get 'imaginative.'"

Buffett said Wednesday he currently holds about $100 billion in shares of Berkshire Hathaway and that the $41 billion he has previously donated in shares has saved him only $0.40 in taxes per $1,000 given. 

"That's because I have relatively little income," he said. "My wealth remains almost entirely deployed in tax-paying businesses that I own through my Berkshire stockholdings, and Berkshire regularly reinvests earnings to further grow its output, employment and earnings."

Buffett said Wednesday that his remarks are "no swan song." But he added that while he still loves his job, "I'm clearly playing in a game that, for me, has moved past the fourth quarter and into overtime."

— With reporting by the Associated Press.

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