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The Morning Brief: Griffin, Paulson, Ackman Gave Big in 2015

Kenneth Griffin has donated $40 million to the Museum of Modern Art in New York in what is being described as one of the largest contributions the museum has received in its 85-year history.

The donation was made several months after his high-profile divorce was completed. Even so, Griffin, founder of Chicago-based hedge fund firm Citadel, no doubt can afford to give away this sum. Last year he earned $1.3 billion, topping Alpha’s annual Rich List ranking of the world’s top-earning hedge fund managers. He also has personally made more than $3.1 billion over the past three years. This year should be no different, as his firm’s flagship Kensington Fund was up 12.6 percent through November, making it one of the year’s multi-strategy leaders.

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Griffin is one of a number of high-profile hedge fund managers to make generous donations this year. And not all of them fared nearly as well as Griffin did in 2015. For example, earlier this year Harvard University announced a $400 million donation from alumnus and hedge-fund luminary John Paulson to its School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Little surprise, this was its largest single gift ever. Keep in mind that this year most of Paulson’s funds at his New York-based Paulson & Co. are on track to lose money this year.

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Another very generous hedge fund manager is William Ackman, who recently warned clients of his New York-based Pershing Square Capital Management that 2015 will be his worst year ever. Even so, this year Ackman’s Pershing Square Foundation announced it will donate $15 million to TheDream.US, which helps immigrant youths pay for college. The donation will be made over three years. In addition, The Pershing Square Foundation has awarded $10 million to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to support biology and genetics research and education programs. The fund’s principal will be managed by Pershing Square Capital Management. Under the deal, the Laboratory will receive annual income equal to 5 percent of the principal. Then in 2040, the appreciated principal will be given to CSHL as an unrestricted endowment named the Pershing Square Innovation Fund to support research at CSHL in perpetuity, according to the announcement.

Also this year, Ackman and Seth Klarman, founder of Boston-based Baupost Group, are two of 20 philanthropists from New York and Boston who have agreed to fund a $20 million project at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard to help combat tuberculosis.

Then, of course, there is the Robin Hood Foundation, which raised more than $101 million earlier this year at its annual benefit gala from a wide array of hedge fund managers and others. Contributions ranged between $5 million and $25 million to help boost New Yorkers in a variety of ways, earmarking money for schools, job training programs, shelters, emergency food providers, medical care and other services.

At this year’s dinner, there were two $25 million grants. One came from an anonymous donor, while the other $25 million donation was made by Bill and Karen Ackman.

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