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State board reaches new compromise on Sudan divestment

Permanent Fund, retirement board to support Palin effort

Posted: Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Alaska Retirement Management Board has endorsed Gov. Sarah Palin's Sudan divestment bill before the Alaska Legislature, reversing course from last session.

The board, which manages about $15 billion in retirement assets, met in Juneau on Friday. The Alaska Permanent Fund Board of Trustees is poised to do the same at a meeting next week.

Palin has introduced House Bill 92 and Senate Bill 81 to divest state investment funds from companies that support the government of Sudan, and its policies that the U.S. government has called "genocide."

It would cover about $60 billion in state assets, including Permanent Fund, retirement and other state savings.

Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, is among legislators who have introduced similar bills of their own. Lynn said he and other divestment supporters are likely to line up behind Palin's bill.

Two of Palin's commissioners serve as members of the ARM board, and it was one of those, Annette Kreitzer of the Department of Administration, who made the motion Friday to adopt a resolution supporting divestment.

The resolution was drafted by another commissioner, Pat Galvin of the Department of Revenue.

"This is a place where bad things are happening and we should avoid it as a moral imperative," Galvin said.

Galvin said the bill now in the Legislature eliminates some of the concerns about last year's bill.

Michael O'Leary, an investment advisor for both the ARM Board and the Permanent Fund, said the bill would prohibit investments in a list of companies maintained by Galvin's office.

Importantly, the new bill would exempt stocks held in index and other commingled funds, which could be problematic to administer.

"In my opinion, those are the two real critical issues," O'Leary said.

Legislative efforts at Darfur divestment failed in the Legislature last year after ARM Board and permanent fund investment managers opposed them early in the process, before Palin reversed course.

The issue later arose during Palin's vice presidential campaign as she cited her support for divestment to bolster her international affairs credentials.

Legislators reluctant to support the divestment bills last year feared they'd be complicated and expensive to administer, and would hurt investment returns while having an insignificant impact on the government of Sudan.

Permanent Fund Executive Director Mike Burns said the changes allay his concerns, and he'll recommend to the trustees that they no longer oppose the bills.

One of the key changes he wanted was for the Revenue Commissioner - not the Permanent Fund - be responsible for developing the list of companies for which investments would be banned.

"We don't want to be in the list business," he said.

ARM Board Vice-chair Sam Trivette said the new bill is simpler to administer, and also addresses the board's concerns.

"That was our concern, trying to make it simple so we wouldn't get into trouble," he said.

Galvin said the list would be maintained from publicly available sources, and companies placed on it would get the opportunity to appeal that action.

U.S. companies already are barred from doing business with Sudan, and the only foreign companies that do certain kinds of business, such as oil production, that support the Sudanese military, are targeted.

One of those held by the Permanent Fund is China Petroleum, in which Alaska has a $14.3 million investment.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or e-mail patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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