In the vice-presidential debate, Gov. Sarah Palin mentioned that she supports divestment in companies helping Sudan carry out genocide in its Darfur.
It's good the governor put the issue up on a national and international stage with millions of people watching and listening. And good that she backs Alaska legislation to pull Permanent Fund and retirement money out of such companies.
Critics of Alaska divestment -- including both Mike Burns, executive director of the Permanent Fund, and the late Brian Andrews, Gov. Palin's deputy Revenue commissioner -- argued that while the intentions of divestment were good, Alaska should steer clear of investment policies tied to political and social agendas. Both men spoke against the genocide in Darfur. But, they said, Alaskans could lose by divestment while Darfur gained nothing.
To a point, they were right. Alaska shouldn't tailor its investments to suit every passing political passion. Investment managers have a responsibility to prudently invest the state's money for maximum return.
But Alaska has no business investing with companies that, intentionally or not, help Sudan or any other nation inflict genocide. Genocide goes beyond a political or social agenda. It's mass murder, and there shouldn't be any question about the moral imperative to stand against it. That's been U.S. policy since 1997, when sanctions prohibited any U.S.-owned companies from doing business in Sudan. On Dec. 31, 2007, President Bush signed a bill unanimously passed by Congress that clears the way for state and local governments to divest from foreign-owned companies operating in Sudan.
For the record, Gov. Palin came late to the cause. After her administration testified against the bill in February 2008, efforts by State Reps. Les Gara, Bob Lynn and Darfur supporters persuaded Palin and Revenue Commissioner Pat Galvin to change course. Unfortunately, it was too late to save the bill before the Legislature adjourned in April.
For the record, Gov. Palin has pledged her full support when the bill is reintroduced in January 2009, if she's still governor then. Good. If lawmakers do what's right, whoever is governor will have a bill to sign in February 2009.
When the bill died last spring, Alaska had about $22 million invested in six companies, all foreign, doing mostly oil business with Sudan. As Rep. Gara pointed out, with thousands of companies to invest in, the Permanent Fund and the state's retirement funds could do the right thing and probably not lose a dime.
Divestment by Alaska won't stop genocide in Darfur. But by joining many states and nations in divestment, along with current federal restrictions on companies doing business with Sudan, we can add to a growing chorus. Money talks. Let's make the voice louder and clearer.
BOTTOM LINE: Divestment in companies that help Sudan maintain genocide is right. Alaska shouldn't hesitate.