[updated] Death knell for HB151, Sudan/Iran divestment? Vote is tomorrow

The Ohio House is voting on HB 151 tomorrow. Please contact your state representative in opposition today.

Update: read more up to date info on action in the House here, here and here. There is an effort to get retirees to go to the floor hearings before the vote, which currently is scheduled to begin at 11am.
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According to this article in today’s Akron Beacon Journal, State Rep. William Batchelder worries about HB151.

Why?

A little something, oh, like – its impact on Ohio and Ohioans. How novel.

Let’s start with the knowledge not possessed by one of the bill’s own sponsors, a lack of knowledge that sours the fact that the bill even got out of committee, as well as gives rise to Batchelder’s concern.

From the ABJ:

The Iran divestiture bill, sponsored by state Reps. Josh Mandel, R-Lyndhurst and Shannon Jones, R-Springboro, has received intense scrutiny in recent weeks following revelations that many of the most prominent international companies that employ thousands of Ohioans were on a list of firms marked as having financial ties to terrorist-supporting states like Iran.

Mandel said the bill has been narrowed to requiring the pension funds to divest from specific energy sector industries such as gas, oil, and mining, but broadened to now include the Sudan.

I must insert here that, the bolding of “revelation” is mine. As a writer, I know that revelation has an extremely specific meaning and implication for the one using it: he or she is most definitely hoping that the reader will make a very specific inference: didn’t know it before, wasn’t told before, is now being disclosed, when, before, it hadn’t been.

Let’s continue:

Mandel said the number of international companies was whittled from more than 170 to 19 currently conducting business in Iran.

He said he did not know how many companies doing business with the Sudan would be on the list, but those firms are not limited to the energy sector.

Don’t you think knowing how many companies doing business with the Sudan that will be on that list is something you would want to know before passing the bill out of committee? Kind of like how Mandel and Jones should have known that they owned GE stock, from which the pensions would be required to divest, before they introduced the bill in the first place? (Mandel has since sold his stock.)

What’s even more odd is that, thanks to my asking some questions of actual legislators and staff, I know that freshman legislators are particularly and specifically lectured on being careful about sponsoring and co-sponsoring bills – precisely because amendments can make them morph into something other than what the legislator thought they were when they started out. Mandel’s lack of knowledge about which companies are affected should be a red flag that he’s more committed to the ideology behind what he started out with, no matter the specifics, than he is to providing the best stewardship of Ohioan’s lives. Way too reminiscent of the Bush administration and its war policies for my liking.

State Rep. William Batchelder, who, by the way, is chair of the House Insurance committee, a committee upon which Josh Mandel serves, might almost wish that he could remain in the dark, according to this info from the ABJ story:

One of the companies on the Sudan list is Rolls Royce, an international firm being courted by the state to locate operations in the Cleveland area.

State Rep. William Batchelder, R-Medina voted for the bill in committee, but he said lawmakers were not made aware of the companies on the Sudan list.

Batchelder said it doesn’t make sense to tell the pension plans to divest in Rolls Royce at the same time the company is considering a major investment in Ohio. [my emphasis]

“We’ve had a lot of questions about bombs they make in Iran. The answer to that is not economic. It’s military,” Batchelder said. “You bomb the facility that’s making them. Ronald Reagan gave Libya religion by doing that and it’s just something we’re going to have to face.” [my emphasis]

Thank you, Rep. Batchelder. We’ve been turning purple in the face writing about that in the blogs.

So, what are we really talking about, in terms of the effect of this bill on Ohio now that it includes companies that have connections to the Sudan?

From the ABJ:

An analysis by Institutional Shareholder Services tabbed more than 70 companies in which the pension funds are investing that are also doing business in the Sudan and Iran, [State Teacher Retirement System spokeswoman Laura] Ecklar said.

If STRS could get ISS to do the analysis, why didn’t the Ohio legislators, before proposing this bill or amendment?

Probably in part because Ohio is just a seed state along with several others that certain think tanks and entities hope to manipulate to push emotional foreign policy issues into the state realm, to the economic detriment of pensioneers, as well as to the detriment of all Ohioans who need all the time the legislature can find to address Ohio’s top issues – like education, health care and jobs.

As Ecklar of STRS says in the ABJ story:

“We’ve said this before. The intent of the bill’s sponsors and co-sponsors is well-intended,” Ecklar said. “We agree in premise. We don’t support terrorism or genocide, but we are instructed by law as part of our fiduciary duties to make a good return on our investments for our contributors and retirees.”

At a minimum, when they start the debate tomorrow on the floor of the Ohio House, someone damn well better have the fiscal impact information (which, you can see here, indicates not
hing but losses in revenues and increases in expenditures for Ohio) so that nothing comes as a “revelation” later that would make people sound like Hillary Clinton on the Iraq war votes.

Finally, I want to highlight this comment by Tom Blumer of Bizzy Blog.

Jill,

I disagree with the move:
– The government in general needs to set rules as to how businesses should conduct themselves consistent with its foreign policy. If the government needs to make dealings with a particular country even more restrictive (and I believe in this case they should), companies obviously have to comply.
– Companies need to comply with the law and also the dictates of their conscience (if privately owned) or their best reading of their shareholders’ collective conscience (if publicly owned like GE).
– Private sector pension funds’ ONLY fiduciary duty under ERISA is to get the best possible returns for its members consistent with investment safety. It is that way specifically to prevent fund managers from engaging in agenda-driven investing. I’m not sure whether ERISA applies to public pension funds, but their fiduciary duty should be the same.
– It’s not that far of a trip from “don’t invest in any company that does biz with Iran” (legally), to “don’t do biz with tobacco, gambling, fast-food, or companies run by people from the other party.” At the extreme, it would lead to total realignment of investments every time the party in control of the statehouse changes and constant sniping about whether “GOP” or “Dem” investments are better performers.

Of course I support Israel and would like to see a pro-democracy coup in Iran yesterday.

Mandel selling his own stock is a move based on his own conscience, and he deserves applause for that. Mandel is out of bounds thinking that the pension funds should do the same. And if Shannon Jones thinks that the fund managers aren’t weighing risk correctly (a really silly claim unless she has real evidence), she should be calling for their ouster.

Tom

I have enormous respect for Tom’s writing and knowledge and analytical abilities, especially in areas of business and economics. I feel completely confident that if Tom is as against HB 151 as his comment indicates, then there is no question that the current bill needs to be defeated.

Please, contact your state representative, as well as Reps. Mandel, Jones, Batchelder and House Speaker Jon Husted now (hyperlinks are to email), because the vote is tomorrow.

7 thoughts on “[updated] Death knell for HB151, Sudan/Iran divestment? Vote is tomorrow

  1. Akshai – Thanks for the note re: RR and Sudan. Let’s keep fingers crossed. But that’s part of the issue – how much good faith do we offer? In which cases? Can it be exercised objectively? Aren’t there reasons why we don’t make laws about this unless absolutely the only measure we can take?

  2. Jill,I agree that this is not a good bill, and that this is not the way to deal with Iran as Ohioans, but rather that should be a function of our US representatives.That being said, I think it is of note to mention that Rolls Royce has declared a pull out of Sudan. I think that we should seriously ask why these two countries are linked in this bill. Iran though in conflict with US interests should not be lumped in with a governement responsible for 400,000 person genocide and the displacement of millions.

  3. Jill, I think it is of note to mention that this month Rolls Royce has decided to pull out of Sudan.That being said, I agree that this bill is inappropriate as the ways to handle Iran and Sudan are very separate and should be treated as such.

  4. I agree with you completely in your point, Paul and that’s what’s so confounding about the people pushing this bill. There’s also the issue of when are we going to stop using the law to legislate social agenda items. When is it right to do so, if ever?And with which mechanisms?Over and over I’ve said as have others: no one disagrees with the concept that we don’t want to be feeding Iran’s frenzy. But the state legislature, at this juncture in Ohio’s welfare, not to mention the inability to enforce such measures, is not the tool.

  5. Jill:My ignorance of the politics orbiting this bill should make me stay out of the discussion. As always, I believe this bill is like any other bill in that it is less about morality than it is tinkering with the flow of money to some unnamed recipient.But to the extent that the discussion is about whether morality should be suspended for profit, it seems like a complete reversal of the fundamental liberal position to come down on the side of profit.PL

  6. Difficult positions aren’t necessarily difficult to support, Paul. However, in this case, the politicians are grandstanding and hoping that it gets framed precisely as you’ve framed it: like some easy moral decision.But Ohio is not the US Dept. of Defense or Secretary of State or Pentagon. It’s not the U.N. Ohio is an economically depressed state with record foreclosures and fleeing populations. I want my legislators, especially my freshman legislators, focusing on the top Ohio needs, not on the moral, political, emotional, making headlines, dramatic foreign policy issues that the Bush Administration is failing to address through its muscles.If the legislators who are the primary sponsors of this bill were running for statewide office, like the US Congress, I would be happy to hear them talk about pursuing divestment proposals – in the US Congress.But not in the Ohio statehouse.

  7. Jill:I find myself very troubled by this debate. Somehow it seems like a double standard is being applied here. The argument against doing what most would say is morally the right thing to do (apply economic pressure to Iran) is that it would cost the stakeholder’s some money. And does your response to Rep Batchelder indicate that you agree we should bomb Iran rather that attempting economic sanctions? Isn’t the position taken by the anti-war folks that we should have given economic sanctions more time to work in Iraq rather than jumping right to the military option?Nor do I understand Blumer’s comment. It seems like he’s saying the government should be allowed to restrict a corporation from doing business in certain countries, but that the government should not interfere with the decision of a pension fund to make investments in that same country?I’m stunned by the assertion that we should give Rolls Royce a pass simply because we’re trying to recruit them to build a manufacturing operation in Ohio. It is said that character is defined by how you behave when no one is watching, and bravery is defined as doing the right thing even when it is likely to bring personal harm.Have we really become so red/blue polarized in this country that this dialog makes sense to anyone? Or do we support difficult positions only when when the consequences are born by others?

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