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$2 billion in charity is not enough for Jeff Bezos to slink out of the public limelight

Don’t expect this announcement to put a pause to questions about how he spends his fortune and how to understand his legacy.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos
Drew Angerer / Getty

Would Jeff Bezos be so generous if he was not under such profound scrutiny?

That scrutiny is not going to end for the world’s wealthiest person, who on Thursday announced he would dedicate at least $2 billion to philanthropic projects. It’s a long time coming for the Amazon CEO, who had yet to spend any real amount of his $163 billion in assets on charity, despite external pressure.

Bezos made the declaration as an important deadline approached: He said in June that he would unveil his giving plans this summer — which officially ends next week. That’s relevant, not pedantic, since Bezos’s giving plans have at least had the perception of being PR-motivated. He first tweeted about his interest in philanthropy on the cusp of questions from the New York Times about his parsimonious donation history.

Even now, though, Bezos’s $2 billion is a meager amount of money relative to the giving plans of other billionaires. He is commiting about 1.3 percent of his total net worth during a year in which his pocketbook doubled in size thanks to Amazon’s bull run, according to Forbes. Bezos has not signed The Giving Pledge — the promise by billionaires to donate a majority of their wealth to charity — as have the world’s other wealthiest people, such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

Bezos’s contributions will focus on combating homelessness and supporting preschool education. He also said in his statement that his family’s contributions to the fund “will begin with a commitment of $2 billion,” suggesting that he is likely to give more.

The Amazon founder has made some gifts: $15 million to Princeton University, where he went to college, and tens of millions of dollars to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. (Those are still drops in the bucket when you consider just how wealthy he is.)

Bezos has helped reinvigorate journalism by purchasing the Washington Post and has described his investment in his space-exploration company, Blue Origin, in philanthropic terms (though both of those are for-profit entities). And he turned heads in the political world this summer when he unveiled a $10 million contribution — a pittance in tech, but a huge amount of cash in politics — to a super PAC that supports veterans running for office.

But don’t expect Thursday’s announcement to put a pause to questions about how he spends his fortune and how to understand his legacy — especially given the questions in Silicon Valley and Washington about corporate responsibility. President Trump and his supporters clearly have Bezos in the crosshairs. Amazon is rising at a time of growing distrust of the all-knowing tech giant.

At age 54, Jeff Bezos is more of a figure of public interest, fascination and scrutiny than ever.

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