Buffett still deciding who to back for president

OMAHA, Neb. &

Someday soon, Warren Buffett may have to apply his legendary stock-picking skills to the candidates clamoring for his endorsement in the 2008 presidential race.

For now, the plainspoken Nebraska billionaire appears to be enjoying his role as an unaffiliated kingmaker, raising money for Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton while promising to do the same for her chief rival, Barack Obama. He's even heaped praise on New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who recently left the Republican Party and might join the race as an independent.

"As the markets often would follow Buffett's investments, I think that same mentality would follow his political activities, too," said Joseph Marbach, a Seton Hall University political science professor.

An outspoken critic of economic inequality in the U.S., Buffett is using his newfound political prominence as a platform to speak out on the obligation of the privileged to help the poor.

The 76-year-old Buffett is one of the world's wealthiest men, ranked third by Forbes Magazine behind Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Mexican telecom magnate Carlos Slim.

In 1956, armed with $105,000 raised from a handful of friends and relatives, Buffett founded the investment company now known as Berkshire Hathaway. Today, the company has assets of nearly $262 billion and owns more than 60 subsidiary businesses including insurance, clothing, candy and furniture.

In 2003, Buffett served as a top economic adviser to Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger's first campaign for California governor, but he advised Democrat John Kerry's presidential campaign a year later. He's also been active in several Nebraska contests.

When it comes to investing dollars in candidates, Buffett clearly favors Democrats. He's donated $65,600 to federal candidates since 1992, almost all of it to Democrats with a handful of contributions to moderate Republicans like Connecticut Rep. Chris Shays, according to Federal Election Commission records available through the nonpartisan Web site opensecrets.org. He gave $4,000 to Clinton's Senate campaign in 2000, and $5,000 to Obama's political action committee, Hope Fund, in 2005.

Buffett's political involvement reached a new level this year, as he began more forcefully criticizing the Bush administration's foreign and tax policies.

Buffett helped Clinton pull in at least $1 million at a New York fundraiser last month, and has said he would do the same for Obama later this year. But in a recent Time magazine interview, he also said he dreamed of a Bloomberg-Schwarzenegger presidential ticket.

"That would be one hell of a team, wouldn't it?" he said.

Buffett's political views have at times been controversial in the business world, particularly on the subject of taxes. He's made no secret of his belief that rich people have a duty to pay more taxes and that President Bush and Republicans in Congress have erred by pushing tax cuts for the wealthy.

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