Alaska News

Permanent Fund board discusses investment referrals after concerns with vice-chair

JUNEAU — The Alaska Permanent Fund’s board is considering changes to how board members make investment referrals to corporation staff.

The fund’s governance committee met on Monday to discuss a series of recommendations intended to improve the governance of the corporation. The meeting followed concerns raised in emails earlier in the month that board Vice Chair Ellie Rubenstein used her position to set up meetings between Permanent Fund staff and business associates or companies with ties to a company she owns. Rubenstein said in a prepared statement at the time that she follows the corporation’s rules involving ethics and disclosures.

The emails were first obtained and published on the website Alaska Landmine.

The board sought to investigate who leaked the emails in a heated board meeting on May 8. Craig Richards, the fund’s longest-serving board member, raised concerns that in recent years, there had been a large increase among some trustees in the number of investment referrals made to fund staff.

Board members, and the fund’s three-member investment advisory group, said on Monday that there was a need to reestablish public trust in the Permanent Fund.

John Skjervem, chief investment officer for Utah Retirement Systems and an investment adviser to the fund, said the events of the past several weeks had “jeopardized” the sanctity of the corporation.

The board sets policy for the $80 billion fund, which pays the state’s annual dividend to Alaskans and provides about half the state’s general fund revenues.


The board on Monday discussed a 2023 report prepared by Funston Advisory Services on how to improve governance at the fund. No final decisions were by the five-member board. Chair Ethan Schutt did not participate in Monday’s meeting.

“I do think that today is really about transparency and trust building of all stakeholders,” said Rubenstein, who chairs the governance committee, at Monday’s meeting.

The fund’s Chief Investment Officer, Marcus Frampton, raised concerns about conflicts of interest in the leaked emails that involve Rubenstein, co-founder of the Manna Tree Partners private equity firm and daughter of David Rubenstein, who is co-founder of the Carlyle Group, one of the world’s largest private equity funds. Ellie Rubenstein’s mother is Alice Rogoff, who purchased the Anchorage Daily News in 2014, changed its name to Alaska Dispatch News and owned the company until it filed for bankruptcy protection in 2017.

In response to the 2023 governance report, Permanent Fund staff said addressing how board members made investment referrals was one of their most critical recommendations.

Board members said on Monday that they will often be approached with investment pitches for the fund. Those should be forwarded to staff, but that’s where board members’ role ends, said Britt Harris, a former interim CEO at the $53 billion Texas Permanent School Fund, and one of the Permanent Fund’s investment advisers.

Board members asked a series of hypotheticals. Rubenstein said there was a nine-month period when the fund did not have a head of private equity and Frampton filled in. She asked what should happen then with investment referrals.

Skjervem said the response by board members should be, “We don’t have the bandwidth right now to entertain new ideas.”

”You never blur the line between what the role of the board is and what the role of the investment team is,” Harris said. “That’s really the CEO’s job to take care of.”

One suggestion discussed by the board was logging all of the investment referrals made to staff and making those public. George Zinn, an investment adviser, said that was a model used by the $163 billion Washington State Investment Board. The Permanent Fund’s legal counsel, Chris Poag, said investment referrals have been logged, but had not been made public at quarterly meetings.

“It’s an idea, that if you tell the world what you’re invested in, that the Permanent Fund is invested in — it’s the transparency that cleanses any conflict,” he said.

Other suggestions discussed on Monday were to establish an email address for fund managers where all investment referrals could be sent and to develop a “crisis communications” strategy when major media events occur at the corporation.

The Permanent Fund’s board is set to consider governance recommendations at its July meeting in Fairbanks.

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Sean Maguire

Sean Maguire is a politics and general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Juneau. He previously reported from Juneau for Alaska's News Source. Contact him at