Elon Musk gave $5.7 billion charity last year. Where the money went was a mystery—until now

Elon Musk gave $5.7 billion charity last year. Where the money went was a mystery—until now

The $5.7 billion of Tesla shares that Elon Musk donated to an unnamed organization at the end of 2021 went to his own charitable arm, instantly making it one of the largest foundations in the US.

The Musk Foundation held $9.4 billion in assets at the end of 2021, according to a tax filing obtained by Bloomberg News. It sent about $160 million to nonprofits last year, by far the most the world’s richest person has donated from his organization in a calendar year. 

The billionaire’s largest gift during the period was $55 million to the Memphis-based St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, followed by $54 million to the X Prize Foundation, which he partnered with in 2021 to create a prize for carbon removal projects. 

Other donations listed in the tax form show Musk following through on promises to school districts and nonprofits in the area around Brownsville, Texas, near his SpaceX spaceport in Boca Chica, Texas. 

Musk, 51, has a personal fortune of $167.6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He relocated his businesses, including Tesla, from California to Texas during the pandemic, also shifting his charitable foundation. 

The foundation’s tax forms list Musk, his right-hand man Jared Birchall and Matilda Simon as directors. There are no other employees listed in the filing. 

The largest foundation in the US is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which had assets of almost $55 billion at the end of 2021. It gave out about $6.2 billion in grants last year, according to a spokesperson.

Political spat

Musk sent $5.7 billion of Tesla shares to charity in November 2021 as he sparred with politicians including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren over inequality and a proposed wealth tax. He never said where the money had ultimately gone.

A large gift to charity would have helped reduce what Musk has described as the biggest tax bill in US history. Days before he completed a series of stock sales worth more than $16 billion — much of which was to cover the exercise of almost 23 million options — the Tesla CEO tweeted he would pay more than $11 billion in taxes for the year.

Earlier this year, several grant recipients said their primary point of contact at the foundation was Igor Kurganov, a professional poker player-turned-philanthropist who is active in the effective altruism space.

There are few obvious signs that effective altruism, a philosophical movement that tries to have the greatest impact by carefully spending money to solve problems, has impacted Musk’s giving. The cause was heavily promoted by Sam Bankman-Fried, whose crypto exchange FTX declared bankruptcy last month. 

The Musk Foundation sent $4 million to the Future of Life Institute, which focuses on reducing the risks of artificial intelligence and biotechnology, both of which are top priorities for effective altruists. Musk is an adviser at the nonprofit, alongside Morgan Freeman. 

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