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Lawmakers aim to cut ties with Sudan's government

Posted: Thursday, February 07, 2008

Alaska's public money should not be funding genocide on the other side of the planet, according to some state lawmakers.

A bipartisan group of legislators is pushing a bill that would divest Alaska's public funds in companies that are doing business with the Sudanese government, which is in turn allegedly bankrolling militias responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in the Darfur region.

"Alaskans don't want to make money on genocide," said Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, one of the sponsors of the bill.

Alaska holds about $22 million in investments in companies that would be affected by the bill, according to Max Croes, an advocacy associate with the Sudan Divestment Taskforce, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

All of the money, Croes said, is in the Alaska Permanent Fund, whose overall total value is about $38 billion dollars.

Critics of the bill say it is well-intentioned but fraught with "unintended consequences."

Mike Burns, CEO of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., said the cost of divesting and then constantly monitoring the fund's investments so that they comply with any new regulations would be high and have a negative impact on the bottom line.

"There's a lot more expense to it than people understand," Burns said.

He added that Alaska is a model for large state-owned funds and changes in how it is run need to be examined carefully.

"We have always invested for economic reasons," Burns said. "You have a different thought process entirely once you start political investing."

Burns said that the evidence is clear that past social-investing efforts, like those against South Africa during apartheid, have been ineffective.

"Historically, these things haven't worked," Burns said.

But Croes said those comparisons are "apples and oranges" and the proposal in Alaska is specifically targeted at the handful of companies funding the genocide in Darfur. He said this legislation won't throw the door open to more socially motivated investment decisions.

"Ongoing genocide as declared by the president and congress. That's the threshold for divestment," Croes said. "This is where the door opens and closes."

Gara said there were only six foreign companies that would be affected by the legislation, and cutting ties with them wouldn't affect Alaskans' wallets.

"The permanent fund won't lose a single penny by taking money out of those tiny, those six companies and putting it into something else," Gara said.

To date 22 states have adopted divestment policies in Sudan and 23 more, including Alaska, are considering similar policies, according to the Sudan Divestment Taskforce.

President George W. Bush recently signed the Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act, which allows states and local governments to sever relationships with companies doing business with the Sudanese government.

"Alaska is the 49th state to join the union, but it should not be the last to say: 'No to genocide, not on our dime,'" said Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, another sponsor, in a statement supporting the bill.

• Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or by e-mail at alan.suderman@juneauempire.com.



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