Houston hedge-fund billionaire and former Enron trader John Arnold has become a surprisingly famous figure in Rhode Island politics since it emerged that he donated more than $100,000 to Engage Rhode Island, the advocacy group that helped Gina Raimondo pass the pension law. Her opponents have seized on Arnold’s ties to high finance and the ill-fated energy firm to cast doubt on EngageRI’s motivations.
But Arnold’s actual story is actually more interesting than that, according to the summer issue of WSJ.Money magazine.
Arnold, 39, closed his hedge fund last year and retired to begin giving away his $2.8-billion fortune, mainly through the Laura and John Arnold Foundation he and his wife founded:
Arnold and his wife, Laura, have a somewhat unique approach to giving. Most billionaires tend to write checks to good causes they’re part of, hospitals where they were treated or universities they attended. … Or there are donors who make sizable gifts to meet an obvious need in a community, such as hunger or education. But at a time when charitable giving in the U.S. is still down from its peak in 2007, the Arnolds want to try something new and somewhat grander. John says the goal is to make “transformational” changes to society.
The Arnolds want to see if they can use their money to solve some of the country’s biggest problems through data analysis and science, with an unsentimental focus on results and an aversion to feel-good projects — the success of which can’t be quantified. No topic is too ambitious: Along with obesity, the Arnolds plan to dig into criminal justice and pension reform, among others.