Monday, November 14, 2011

Social Investing: AIPAC Alaska Chief David Gottstein Prodding State Lawmakers To Require Alaska Permanent Fund Managers To Disinvest From Iran

Article 8, Section 2 of the Alaska State Constitution requires the Alaska state legislature to "provide for the utilization, development, and conservation of all natural resources belonging to the State, including land and waters, for the maximum benefit of its people". Presumably, because the Alaska Permanent Fund represents the financial fruits of such utilization and development, it should also be invested in a manner to provide maximum benefit to the people, placing financial returns ahead of secondary considerations such as politics and morality.

But apparently, some state lawmakers don't believe Permanent Fund investments should be subjected to the same standard. On November 14th, 2011, the Anchorage Daily News reports that a bipartisan group of state lawmakers hope to force managers of the $37 billion Permanent Fund to dump the stocks of companies doing business in Iran. KTUU Channel 2 published a more abbreviated story. While a complete list of these lawmakers is not provided, we can determine the identities of some of them by examining divestment legislation under the "Permanent Fund" category currently in the hopper:

-- HB2, Divest Investments In Iran, sponsored by Republican Reps. Carl Gatto and Bob Lynn, relegated to State Affairs Committee on January 18th, 2011
-- HB241, Divest Investments In Iran, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Beth Kertulla, relegated to State Affairs Committee on April 17th, 2011
-- SB131, Divest Investments In Iran, group-sponsored by the Senate State Affairs Committee as of April 16th, 2011.

Since the Senate State Affairs Committee approved keeping SB131 alive as a group, their identities are pertinent to this post. The committee members are Senators Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage), Joe Paskvan (D-Fairbanks), Al Kookesh (D-Angoon), Kevin Meyer (R-Anchorage), and Cathy Giessel (R-Anchorage Hillside). This means there are a total of eight lawmakers known to be directly involved in the divestment effort.

Sen. Wielechowski defends his efforts, saying that Iran is a unique situation. He notes that Iran is a country recognized for supporting terrorism, violating human rights and creating a nuclear program that threatens the world. However, Permanent Fund CEO Mike Burns says that the fund has had a long history of investing exclusively on economic terms, and Permanent Fund spokeswoman Laura Achee says no previous bill requiring social investing has ever passed and fund investors have never done so under their own authority. Governor Sean Parnell is not known to favor divestment.

The Projected Effects of Divestment Legislation: In general, any of the three bills would force Alaska to drop its stocks with companies doing more than $20 million of oil and gas, mining, energy production or military equipment business with Iran. However, legislative researchers found nearly $79 million in Alaska state investments would be subject to Iran divestment, most of which are held by the Permanent Fund.

Who's Really Behind This Effort? Anchorage businessman and financial adviser David Gottstein, who is Alaska chairman of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), has been among those who have been pushing for Alaska to join 20 other states pursuing divestment policies. Gottstein claims that Iran threatens the Middle East and the U.S. even though they've attacked no one, notes that their oil and gas sector is vulnerable, and wants to change their behavior by financially crippling it.

However, AIPAC exists solely to benefit the state of Israel, without regard for the impact upon the United States. And despite the fact that other foreign lobbies are required to register with the Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations have not been required to register. While AIPAC claims that they are a registered American lobbying group, funded by private donations, and receiving "no financial assistance" from Israel or any other foreign group, AIPAC has been involved in numerous scandals, including one notorious incident in 2005 when Lawrence Anthony Franklin, a U.S. Air Force Reserves colonel working as a Department of Defense analyst at the Pentagon in the office of Douglas Feith, was arrested by the FBI and charged with providing classified national defense information to Israel via two AIPAC officials. The two officials, AIPAC policy director Steven Rosen and AIPAC senior Iran analyst Keith Weissman, were fired by AIPAC and later indicted for illegally conspiring to gather and disclose classified national security information to Israel. Ultimately, all charges were dropped.

Reaction: Comments posted to ADN and the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner indicate many respondents are reacting unfavorably to the divestment idea. While a few are wise to AIPAC's purpose and tactics, more are critical of the idea of "social investing".

The Anchorage Daily Planet also condemns the divestment maneuvers, noting that the Permanent Fund website states, "They must be income-producing, protect the fund’s principal, maximize total return and conform to the prudent investor rule which requires investment decisions be made with the prudence, intelligence and discretion expected of an institutional investor", and expresses the concern that lawmakers who have issues with the energy industry may decide that if they can make social investing the Permanent Fund’s new path, they could also use it as a punitive force against companies such as ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and BP who refuse to bow to state demands. A Daily Plane online poll indicates 75 percent of respondents also disapprove of divestment.

Update November 16th: Alaska Voices columnist Geoff Kennedy, who traditionally promotes a balanced foreign policy in the Middle East, weighed in, and showed that he's wise to AIPAC's history and tactics:

But there is an outfit called the American Israel Public Affairs Committee with such immense power that not even Alaska politicians dare stand up to it. AIPAC could not only buy any member of the Corrupt Bastards Club, it could buy the whole club and still be able to throw in Bill Allen as well.


So, the question boils down to whether our politicians have the guts to respect the nearly 30-year-old tradition of keeping politics out of the permanent fund or whether they’ll appease AIPAC for the sake of political correctness.

Or should the politicians solve the problem by simply turning the entire fund over to AIPAC?

The primary goal of Permanent Fund investment must remain for the maximum benefit of the people, NOT the maximum benefit of Israel or any other foreign power. Social investing is merely another name for socialist investing.

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