Buffett Watch

The "Other Buffett's" Personal Philanthropy

It was a busy day for Warren Buffett WatchFriday, with renewed speculation on the timing and targets of a potential multi-billion acquisitions and Berkshire Hathaway's second quarter earnings.

With all that happening, I had to wait a few days to tell you about a fascinating piece in the Wall Street Journal about a person it calls the "other" Buffett, Warren's 79-year-old sister Doris.

Reporter Sally Beatty details what happens to the hundreds of letters Mr. Buffett receives from individuals asking for a helping hand.  He forwards them to Doris' home in Maine because "she is far more philanthropic that I am.  She identifies with the underdog .. She really wants to know their stories."  Doris has her own small foundation funded by a trust initially begun by their father, Howard Buffett, and swelled by years of investments in Berkshire Hathaway.

Unlike large, professionally operated charitable foundations, Doris has assembled a small network of friends and volunteers who do indeed get to know the stories of the people writing in.  "I'm just not interested in building bureaucracy," she says.

Doris and her team write or call, asking for documentation and screening out frivilous requests.  "There always has to be an element of bad luck as opposed to bad choices."  And even when assistance is offered. it's just enough to "empower, but not enable."  Says Doris, "I don't want to become their mommy.  I don't think that's healthy."  The average gift: $4800.


The Salt Lake Tribune reports that a commercial real estate broker in Utah collected 1600 signatures on a letter to Warren Buffett, asking that Rocky Mountain Power cut down on the amount of coal it uses to make electricity, on "climate, health and economic" grounds.  Berkshire's Mid-American Holdings is the parent of Pacificorp, which in turn is the parent of Rocky Mountain Power.  The Tribune quotes the letter's author, Alexander Lofft, as saying "I thought it would grab people's attention."

The paper has a spokesman for the utility saying it is working on alternative energy sources but still sees "coal as part of our future."   As for the signatures, "I don't know what kind of impact the petition might have" given that Buffett is generally not involved in the day-to-day operations of his companies.

Questions?  Comments?  Email me at buffettwatch@cnbc.com