Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 6:44 PM on Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lawmakers calling for permanent fund to dump stocks of firms linked to Iran


ANCHORAGE — Republicans and Democrats in the Alaska Legislature have sponsored bills requiring the state's permanent fund and government retirement accounts to divest themselves of stock in companies that do business with Iran, citing the country's threats to the world and its own citizens.

"I think this is a unique situation," said Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage. "You have a country that is recognized as supporting terrorism, has recognized human rights violations, is creating a nuclear program that is a threat to the entire world, and that is using money from investments being made there to kill Alaskan and American soldiers."

Attempts have been made in the past to change how the Alaska Permanent Fund invests. The $37 billion fund was created by Alaska oil wealth and is fueled by investment earnings.

Previous bills sought to end investment in Sudan and South Africa but were not successful. A previous measure aimed at banning investment in tobacco also failed.

"No bill has ever passed that would require the fund to engage in social investing, and the (permanent fund) has never done any social investing under our own authority," spokeswoman Laura Achee told the Anchorage Daily News.

The bills would force Alaska to drop stocks with companies doing more than $20 million of business with Iran in the fields of oil and gas, mining, energy production or military equipment. The federal government has sanctions in place at that level for firms who invest in Iranian energy.

Gov. Sean Parnell has not decided whether he would support measures to divest from Iran, said spokeswoman Sharon Leighow.

Permanent fund officials have focused on return rates with investments.

"We've had a pretty long history of trying to invest on economic terms and not be involved in, I guess, social issues," said fund chief executive officer Mike Burns. "That's for the political side of the house."

Fund officials in 2008 opposed a divestment measure that targeted Sudan, where the government was suspected of genocidal killings. Fund officials reversed their stance when former Gov. Sarah Palin decided to support the bill, which did not pass.

At least 20 states have approved policies to divest from Iran.

The Alaska measure is backed by David Gottstein, Alaska chairman of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

"The oil and gas sector, and crippling it or debilitating it, is Iran's Achilles' heel," he said. "This is how we get them to change their behavior."

The state has nearly $79 million in investments that would be affected, all in foreign companies that are involved with oil and gas production in Iran, such as Gazprom, the Russia-owned energy company, and China Petroleum and Chemical, according to legislative researchers. Their report also concluded that it was unlikely that the divestment would have a direct, negative impact on the companies.