Weinberg group heavy with assets, light with charity Foundation worth $743 million gave $1.9 million last year

October 19, 1991|By James Bock

The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, a giant among Baltimore philanthropies in assets, was a pipsqueak last year in its contributions to charity.

The foundation, which reported record assets of $743.6 million at the end of its fiscal year in February, gave only $1.9 million to charities in that year, according to its latest tax return, which was first reported in The Evening Sun.

More than 90 percent of the foundation's contributions went to one source -- The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, which received $1.7 million.

Other gifts ranged from $100 to a foster children's fund in Dyer County, Tenn., where the foundation owns a factory that makes grenade parts, to $50,000 each to the United Way of Central Maryland and the Fuel Fund of Central Maryland. There were 33 gifts in all.

The foundation has existed since 1959, but it catapulted into the big leagues of American philanthropy when real estate tycoon Harry Weinberg died in November 1990 and left the foundation virtually all his estate.

Based on the rule of thumb that foundations must give away 5 percent of net investment assets every year, it was expected to contribute $35 million or more to charity annually.

However, Baltimore's second-largest philanthropy, the Abell Foundation, with roughly one-sixth of the Weinberg Foundation's assets, gave three times as much to charity -- $5.7 million -- in 1990.

Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the Abell Foundation, said the Weinberg Foundation had "to start from ground zero." He said he was still "optimistic" that the foundation would make an impact on Baltimore.

"They have no requirement to give any money in Baltimore, and Baltimore shouldn't treat them in a way that they don't want to give in Baltimore," he said.

Officers of the Weinberg Foundation did not return phone messages yesterday. The foundation keeps the lowest of profiles. It does not have a listed phone, nor does it solicit grant applications from non-profit groups.

Domenic J. LaPonzina, an Internal Revenue Service spokesman, said the U.S. tax code "isn't as cut and dried" in demanding that 5 percent of a foundation's assets be given to charity in any given year. Other factors, such as excise tax credits, administrative costs and a grace period in which to sell off business holdings, must be taken into account, he said.

John Edie, vice-president and general counsel of the Washington-based Council on Foundations, said that a foundation that gave too little one year could make up the shortfall the following year, and that large contributions in previous years could be carried over as credit to meet the 5 percent requirement in subsequent years.

In the 1988-1990 fiscal years, the Weinberg Foundation gave away $91.6 million, nearly 7 percent of its assets for those years, according to the tax return.

The foundation's assets soared from $11.5 million in 1985 to nearly $750 million last year, as cancer victim Harry Weinberg gradually transferred his wealth into the foundation. It should grow more when the Weinberg estate is settled. Last year, the foundation received only $1.9 million in new gifts. However, the foundation did report net investment income of $90 million.

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