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PA & Philadelphia Divestment Efforts

  HARRISBURG UPDATE -- PA. TOBACCO BOARD DIVESTS

Observers worry that the economic downturn will harm the chances for Sudan divestment legislation in Harrisburg this year. But in an early test of institutional sentiment, divestment got a thumbs-up. On Feb. 23, Pennsylvania's Tobacco Settlement Investment Board unanimously approved a resolution to “sell, redeem, or divest from its holdings all securities of a foreign company which has scrutinized business activities in Iran or scrutinized business activities in Sudan.” At stake is several million of the some $500 million the fund manages as part of the massive national tobacco settlement.

The divestment resolution was introduced by State Representative Josh Shapiro, who sits on the tobacco board. Its approval means that both the Pennsylvania Treasurer’s Office and the tobacco  board have supported the so-called Terror Free Investing standard for companies operating and investing in Iran and Sudan.

Shapiro is also expected to introduce legislation in coming weeks that would require the multi-billion-dollar state pension funds to adopt Sudan and Iran divestment. Such legislation failed to pass the Pa. General Assembly last year (See story below).

 

PHILA. CITY COUNCIL MAY BROADEN DIVESTMENT

On Oct. 16, Philadelphia City Councilman-at-Large James Kenney introduced legislation in Council that would codify the city pension fund's 2006 divestment policy regarding Sudan, and broaden it to cover investments in Iran as well. Further, Kenney's bill would extend the prohibition to all city contracts and city depositories that do business in Sudan or Iran.

A hearing on the bill is being scheduled for late November before Council's Finance Committee.  According to Sarah Sachdev, Kenney's legislative assistant, the councilman aims to have the bill adopted by year's end.  

The September 2006 divestment resolution by the city pension board, successfully spearheaded by City Controller Alan Butkovitz, called for about $145 million in divestment from various multinational companies doing business in Sudan. The action, which followed testimony by Darfur Alert President Ali B. Ali-Dinar and others, made Philadelphia the first major U.S. city to divest its pension funds from Sudan in response to the Darfur genocide.

Kenney's bill follows the broad outlines of the Sudan Divestment Task Force's targeted-divestment model. It focuses on business entities that do business in Sudan "by maintaining or leasing equipment, facilities, personnel, or other apparatus of business or commerce in oil–related activities, mineral extraction activities, power production activities, or production of military equipment of Sudan." It calls for engagement with targeted companies, and contains benchmarks for removing firms from the banned list.
Though the bill packages Iran and Sudan together, it has provisions to track progress on each front separately, and has separate measures for when to repeal divestment for both countries.

City officials have yet to determine how much money might be at stake in each category of Kenney's legislation. The stance of the mayor's office, the pension board, the city unions and other affected parties is also not clear at this point. We will provide updates as we learn more.

If you have questions or comments on the bill, contact Kenney aide Sarah Sachdev at 215-686-3450 or sarah.sachdev@phila.gov. You also can read the text of Kenney's legislation in the posting at the bottom of the page.


SUDAN DIVESTMENT BILL DIES IN PA. SENATE

At the eleventh hour, a carefully crafted bipartisan arrangement to adopt Sudan divestment was thwarted in the Pennsylvania State Senate -- the apparent victim of the downturn in the U.S. economy. According to one Harrisburg insider, a key member of the Senate GOP Caucus raised alarms that voters in this election season might object to any tampering with retirement investments. That argument carried the day, and the bill was never put on the Senate floor for a vote. The Senate has since adjourned for the year, meaning the bill dies and will have to be reintroduced next year.

This frustrating result caps two long years of fits and starts in the effort
to cleanse the state pension funds of millions of dollars in holdings in multinational companies that enable the Darfur genocide.

Darfur Alert Coalition and our allies had pressed hard for targeted Sudan divestment – testifying before government committees, visiting key legislators, writing letters, holding rallies, even mounting a multimedia art display in the Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg. We had early success: The original Sudan divestment bill passed the state House easily in spring 2007. But then it stalled in the Senate, where some key conservatives balked at divestment on principle.

Then, i
n September, a breakthrough in the form of a compromise bill had appeared to finally clear the way for passage. As we kept up the pressure, and as the end of the legislative session neared, one of the main opponents, Sen. Gibson Armstrong of Lancaster, decided to craft a compromise version that would have removed some holdings from consideration and extended the timing for implementation by a few months. Sudan divestment was also twinned with Iran divestment. This legislation, SB1584, easily passed through two Senate committees in mid-September and won the backing of Gov. Rendell, the pension funds, the unions and many legislators in both chambers.

But then the stock market tanked, and some big political feet got cold.

Darfur Alert advocates will be consulting with elected officials and other Darfur groups on the future strategies for divestment. The goal is to have
Pennsylvania finally join the chorus of U.S. states – 27 and counting – that have decided to take an economic stand against Sudan because of the Darfur genocide.

To add your voice, go here.

Contact Your State Legislator Now:
For your senator or representative's contact information, go here.

Contact Darfur Alert Coalition Advocacy Committee:
Email refitzgerald@aol.com to work with others to ensure PA is not supporting genocide!

Some background:

The divestment would involve the two major state pension funds, which manage about $100 billion in retirement funds for state workers and teachers. At least $100 million of this is invested in foreign companies -- primarily Chinese oil companies -- that provide revenue Khartoum uses to buy arms that fuel the Darfur genocide. In other words, Pennsylvania funds may be going towards supporting genocide. The cities of Philadelphia (in Sept 2006) and Pittsburgh (in March 2007) have already divested their funds from these problem companies. Eight Pennsylvania colleges and universities have either already divested their funds from companies doing business in Sudan or are considering doing so.

Divesting from companies doing business in Sudan is in line with the public will, as expressed in opinion surveys. Darfur Alert has also pointed out that a financial analysis by the Sudan Divestment Task Force clearly shows that substitute "peer investments" perform even better than the current holdings. DAC's Advocacy team sent a copy of the analysis to all of the Finance Committee members to underscore that reality, and has spoken with many of them directly.

This has been a collective effort by activists around the state. Darfur Alert wishes to thank our own advocacy lions, Rita Fitzgerald, Mahdy Bahradin, Dr. Ali Dinar, Lou Ann Merkle, Jim Remsen, Jessica Feldman and Deborah Kapnek. Also, special thanks go to Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz, Bill Becker of American Jewish World Service, Alexa Malischak and Max Croes of the Sudan Divestment Task Force, David Rosenberg and Mary Ann Krupper of the Pittsburgh Darfur Emerge
ncy Coalition, Karen Berry of the Amnesty International Chapter in the Lehigh Valley, and Hank Butler of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition.
 

- TESTIMONY -

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Jim Remsen,
Aug 13, 2008, 10:21 AM
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Jim Remsen,
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Jim Remsen,
Aug 13, 2008, 10:21 AM
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Jim Remsen,
Aug 13, 2008, 10:21 AM
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Jim Remsen,
Aug 13, 2008, 10:21 AM
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Jim Remsen,
Oct 25, 2008, 8:38 AM
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Jim Remsen,
Aug 13, 2008, 10:21 AM