Gov. Mike Dunleavy has appointed a philanthropist-businesswoman to the six-member board of trustees of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., which manages the $79 billion, state-owned investment account that pays for a huge share of Alaska government services.
Lawmakers and Dunleavy’s critics have been closely watching the corporation’s board in recent months, after members voted to fire its former chief executive, Angela Rodell, in December. That move came amid disagreements over the fund’s management, and how much lawmakers can sustainably spend from the account each year.
Dunleavy’s new appointment of Ellie Rubenstein, announced late Tuesday, fills the board seat left open by the retirement of Ketchikan banker Bill Moran, who was the only trustee to vote against Rodell’s termination.
The governor’s office, in its announcement, described Rubenstein as chief executive of a Vail, Colorado-based, food-focused investment firm, Manna Tree Partners, and a graduate of Harvard University and two Indiana masters programs in business and agriculture economics.
Rubenstein is the daughter of Alice Rogoff, the former owner of the Anchorage Daily News (then called Alaska Dispatch News) and billionaire David Rubenstein, co-chairman of the board of The Carlyle Group, one of the world’s largest investment firms.
Carlyle and affiliated firms are paid to manage some $825 million, or 1%, of the Permanent Fund’s investments, according to a breakdown provided by Paulyn Swanson, a spokeswoman for the corporation.
Ellie Rubenstein has no investment or ownership interest in The Carlyle Group or related companies, a Dunleavy spokeswoman, Shannon Mason, said in an email Wednesday. And the Permanent Fund has no investments in Rubenstein’s company, Manna Tree, Swanson said.
As a board member, state law will require Rubenstein to disclose any investments in entities or projects in which the Permanent Fund is also invested, Swanson said.
State ethics and disclosure laws also bar board members from taking official action on matters in which they have personal or financial interests, or for the purposes of obtaining financial gains for themselves or family members.
Dunleavy met with Rubenstein several times in recent months before naming her to the board this week, according to copies of his public schedule obtained by the Daily News.
The governor spent an hour with Rubenstein and her father, David, during a Houston energy conference, CERAWeek, in early March. Three days later, Dunleavy had a dinner meeting with Ellie Rubenstein in Juneau.
At the end of March, Dunleavy flew to Colorado for a health forum hosted by Rubenstein’s company, Manna Tree, whose participants also included Colorado Democratic Gov. Jared Polis and David Rubenstein. On that trip, Dunleavy, who’s made food security a policy focus during his term as governor, also toured an indoor agriculture facility run by Gotham Greens, one of the companies that Manna Tree has invested in.
Dunleavy was unavailable for an interview about the appointment Wednesday, but he said in a prepared statement that he chose Rubenstein because of her “robust background in investment and business management, both professionally and through her education.”
“And she is an Alaskan resident who would devote herself to the work of the board,” the statement added.
Public records show that Rubenstein votes in Alaska but has never applied for a Permanent Fund dividend, which can only be paid to Alaskans who spend 180 days or fewer outside the state, except for allowable absences. Mason, the governor’s spokeswoman, called Rubenstein a “legal resident” of Alaska and said that “her job requires an exceptional amount of traveling to other states and other parts of the world.”
Rubenstein declined to be interviewed Wednesday but said in an email that she has chosen not to apply for dividends for “personal reasons.” She said the appointment came after Dunleavy “asked me to bring my experience running a global investment firm to the Alaska Permanent Fund.”
“The Permanent Fund is an important Alaskan institution,” Rubenstein said in response to a question about her vision for the corporation. “As a new board member, my first priority is to listen and learn.”
Asked about how she’d handle potential conflicts between her personal and family business interests and the Permanent Fund’s, Rubenstein said that “the ethics requirements and fiduciary duties are clear and I take them seriously.”
Rubenstein is a registered Republican who was one of the honorary co-chairs of former President Donald Trump’s campaign in Alaska in 2016.
She has not publicized her views on the Permanent Fund’s management.
Legislative leaders have been investigating the board since Rodell’s firing and have largely opposed Dunleavy’s agenda of paying higher dividends.
That includes one gubernatorial proposal last year that supported higher payments with a one-time, $3 billion withdrawal from the fund beyond the sustainable limit previously set by lawmakers.
Rodell has attributed her firing to her public calls for more conservative management of the fund. Dunleavy has denied that he had any involvement in her firing, and his office has pointed to a performance review released by Rodell that said some trustees “have lost trust in her veracity and leadership.”
[Alaska Permanent Fund Corp.’s former director says her firing was ‘political retribution’]
Two Anchorage lawmakers who were critical of Rodell’s firing said Wednesday that they aren’t familiar enough with Rubenstein to comment directly on her appointment.
But both Republican Sen. Natasha von Imhof and Democratic Rep. Andy Josephson said they support changes to the Permanent Fund board appointment process that they argue would better shield it from political influence. All six board members are currently chosen by the governor.
Von Imhof, in a phone interview, said she thinks board members should be subject to legislative confirmation, which is not currently a requirement.
Josephson proposed legislation this year that would create a nine-member appointment committee to name public members of the board, with committee members named by the governor, state revenue commissioner and legislative leaders. It passed one committee but never made it to the House floor for a vote.
In a phone interview, Josephson said Rubenstein is replacing “the only dissenting voice” on the board.
“I want a free agent who has an independent voice,” he said. He doesn’t know enough about Rubenstein, he added, to tell if she fits that description.