NEW YORK • Mr George Soros, the billionaire hedge fund manager and a major Democratic donor, has given US$18 billion (S$25 billion) to his Open Society Foundations, one of the largest transfers of wealth ever made by a private donor to a single foundation.
The gift, made quietly over the past several years but disclosed only on Tuesday, has transformed Open Society into the second-biggest philanthropic organisation in the United States, behind the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
It also places Mr Soros, a lightning rod for conservative critics, squarely in the middle of the social and political debates convulsing the country.
Founded by Mr Soros over 30 years ago, Open Society promotes democracy and human rights in more than 120 countries. In recent years, it has increased its attention on the US, investing in programmes to protect gays and lesbians and reduce abuses by the police.
The organisation funded treatment centres during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, a centre for Roma art and culture as well as efforts to protect people in the US from what it described as "a national wave of hate incidents" after the 2016 election.
His political focus - including large donations to Mrs Hillary Clinton and other Democratic politicians - has made Mr Soros a target of the right. Conservative website Breitbart has accused him of attempting to make Ireland a "pro-abortion country" and undermining the control of European countries over their borders.
The 87-year-old Mr Soros' philanthropy is rooted in his past. He lived in Nazi-occupied Hungary as a boy. With Budapest under communist rule in 1947, he left for London and then the US, where he found success on Wall Street.
As his fortune grew, Mr Soros began funding efforts to promote democracy and human rights, establishing the first Open Society foundation in Hungary in 1984. For decades, he funded the Open Society Foundations through donations of around US$800 million or US$900 million per year.
But beginning a few years ago, he increased his contributions as part of his estate planning, bringing the organisation's endowment to about US$18 billion this year. The total donation figure was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Mr Soros is expected to contribute at least another US$2 billion in the coming years.