Activists call on fund to divest from Sudan

Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2008

Alaska likely won't be cutting its investments in companies that do business in Sudan anytime soon, a lawmaker sponsoring just such a measure told a group of supporters Wednesday.

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Chris Miller / The Associated Press
Chris Miller / The Associated Press

"Let me put it to you straight," Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage said. "I don't think it'll happen this year."

Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, is sponsoring a bill with Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, to divest public funds from companies operating in Sudan, whose government has been accused of backing militias responsible for genocide in the Darfur region of that country.

Lynn likened the effort to pass his bill to pushing a bowling ball up a hill with a piece of wet spaghetti.

The legislation is stuck in a House committee that Lynn chairs. A similar bill in the Senate has not had a hearing.

About 100 supporters of the bill showed up at noon Wednesday in front of the state Capitol, including a dozen protesters who lay down on the blocked-off street in a "die-in." Their goal was to call attention to the bill and criticize officials at the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. who oppose it.

At the end of last year, the permanent fund had about $22 million invested in six companies that were doing business in Sudan and would be affected by any divestment efforts.

Though it's a tiny portion of the fund's overall $37.5 billion total, officials at the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., including CEO Mike Burns, have said mixing social policy with investment decisions would be bad for the fund's bottom line and have little effect in Darfur.

Lynn said opposition to the bill had likely made some lawmakers reluctant to meddle with the fund, which is widely popular around the state because of the dividend checks it cuts for residents each year.

"There are far more expedient ways to make changes in Darfur," said Sen. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said she didn't know whether the bill had a chance of passing, but said most legislators likely hadn't thought the bill through.

"I think it should have a chance," Kerttula said.

Joyanne Bloom, a Juneau resident who helped organize the rally at the Capitol, said the lobbying power of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. was stronger than those supporting divestment, but she hoped that may one day change.

"Profit is their bottom line," Bloom said. "Life is our bottom line."

But Lynn ended his comments to supporters by telling them that their efforts were not in vain and said significant social changes took time.

"Politicians usually don't see the light until they feel the heat," Lynn said.

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