Money managers resist bill to dump stock in Sudan

Posted: Tuesday, March 04, 2008

ANCHORAGE - A bill before the Legislature would force managers of the Alaska Permanent Fund to dump stocks of companies doing business in Sudan, whose government has been blamed for genocidal killings in Darfur.

The measure also would apply to state retirement fund investments.

Alaska's money managers oppose the bill and say managing money according to a political agenda is a bad bet.

Managers of the state savings accounts say House Bill 287 would complicate their work, raise expenses and have little effect in Darfur. Managing money according to a social or political agenda is a bad bet, said Mike Burns, the permanent fund chief executive officer.

"We've never done any social investing," he said. "It doesn't come free, and it's not good investment policy."

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, is sponsoring the bill with Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage. Gara is upset that Burns is resisting his call to sell the few stocks in the fund portfolio with ties to Sudan.

"Mike Burns has been amazingly creative in coming up with excuses for investing in genocide," Gara said.

Darfur is a province in western Sudan. The area has seen mass killings and huge displacements of people, particularly in 2003 and 2004. The conflict involves forces backed by the Sudanese government against rebels in Darfur. President Bush has used the word genocide for what's happened there.

"The Sudanese government's disastrous decision to arm, direct, and pay Northern Arab tribes, now called the Janjaweed, as their proxies in the war against Darfur's rebels led to genocide and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and the destruction of their villages and livelihoods," the president's special envoy to Sudan told Congress last year.

House Bill 287 would require the permanent fund and retirement fund managers to track, avoid and sell companies doing business in Sudan. The bill requires fund managers to keep a list of "scrutinized companies," and to make periodic reports to the Legislature, the president's envoy and others.

At least 41 states have adopted or are considering policies to divest state assets from Sudan, according to a legislative research report.

As of the end of 2007, permanent fund holdings subject to a sell-off under the bill had a market value of roughly $22 million, a tiny portion of the fund's overall worth.

Federal executive orders forbid U.S. companies from operating in Sudan. The permanent fund owns shares in six foreign companies that do. The biggest stock holding is Sinopec, a giant Chinese oil company that last year backed an unsuccessful bid from an Anchorage construction company for a state natural gas pipeline license.

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