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Letters to The Editor: “The Michael Milken Project”

His charitable motivations are not a search for redemption, a spokesman for Milken says.

  • Letters to the Editor

The May 2017 article about Mike Milken recognized some (but only a fraction) of his philanthropic initiatives, as well as the innovative and positive nature of the Milken revolution in finance. It also properly credited his extraordinary intellect, dedication to family, and loyalty to friends; the social impact of the events he convenes; and his insights that led to more efficient pricing and rewarding of capital market risks.

Other parts of the article, however — in fact, its overriding tone — show a profound misunderstanding of who Mike is, the arc of his entire life’s work, and his motivations. Particularly troublesome are such inaccurate phrases as “one of the greatest comeback stories,” “now giving away a lot of money,” and “a good case for redemption.”

There is no redemptive need — the author said his legal case involved “technical violations,” and some legal authorities have concluded that no crimes were committed. In any event, the article’s description of the Milken plea and his payments is misleading and wrong. The charges noted had not been the subject of criminal prosecution before the Milken case and have not been since. The fine he paid was only one-third the amount that the article erroneously mentioned. Other payments went into a fund to settle lawsuits in which he denied any liability. It has never been shown that his acts cost anyone a cent, and he certainly was not liable to any private investors who may have lost money when Drexel went out of business. Drexel lost money and went out of business after Mike had left the firm. Most importantly, his philanthropy is part of a consistent lifelong quest that began decades before and is unrelated to the case. His charitable motivations spring from basic character, not a search for redemption.

It is offensive to those employees who have dedicated their careers to working with Mike on his many nonprofit initiatives to read the implication that a half century of benevolence is just some public relations ploy to burnish his image. Also discouraging is the reference to “giving away money” as if all he did was put checks in the mail. Thousands of grateful beneficiaries of his philanthropy — many of whom owe their very lives to programs he guided — will tell you how strategically he works. It is perhaps significant that Fortune called him “the Man Who Changed Medicine” — not supported medicine, but changed it.

Mike’s charity has deep roots. Growing up in an extraordinarily close-knit family in the 1950s, he was strongly influenced by his parents’ emphasis on giving back to society. As a ten-year-old, he collected dimes and quarters from neighbors for the Community Chest (now called the United Way). As a high school senior, he was honored with the Junior Chamber of Commerce Outstanding Young Man award for having performed the greatest community service during his school years. As a businessman, he initiated a series of philanthropic endeavors long before most people had heard of him or any legal questions were raised. These and many other activities between 1956 and the early 1980s give lie to the idea that his later philanthropy should be considered suspect.

Finally, the article was unclear about what “his annual conference” refers to. The Milken Institute alone hosts more than 200 events each year, including major conferences in Washington, New York, London, Los Angeles and Singapore. The Milken Family Foundation and other affiliated groups also host many conferences. These are part of Mike Milken’s remarkably successful lifelong efforts to change the world for the better.

Geoffrey Moore is a senior associate of Michael Milken.