Terror-Free Investing Movement Making Headway

In state capitals all across America, the movement to divest public funds from shares of companies that choose to do business with state sponsors of terrorism continues to make major headway.

State legislators have taken the lead in informing the public about the benefits of divesting from the economies of nations such as Iran, Syria, Sudan and North Korea, which are all on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist sponsoring nations. These efforts have met with success in recent months as divestment bills were introduced in several states. It is particularly encouraging that many of the bills place a particular emphasis on Iran’s role as the leading state sponsor of terrorism and a key actor in nuclear proliferation.

Three states in particular led the way during the spring to cut off “corporate life support” for the ayatollahs: Arizona, Georgia and Maryland.

These states joined Missouri, Louisiana, Florida, California, Illinois, Ohio, and New Jersey in adopting various forms of public investment policies that exclude companies that do business in/with Iran and the other terrorist-sponsoring nations.

In Arizona, the state representative who authored the bill to divest that state’s public pensions from companies doing business in Iran was a veteran of the war on terrorism and the Iraq theater of operations. Representative Jonathan Paton, in addition to being a consultant and elected official, is also an Army Reserve intelligence officer. His experience serving in Iraq crystallized his decision to author divestment legislation upon his return to the U.S. from his service overseas:

“While serving as an intelligence officer in Iraq I saw evidence of Iran creating Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFPs) that are killing our soldiers,” Rep. Paton explained. “It made no sense that our state was investing in companies that were propping up the regime in Iran. My experience as an Army officer played the defining role in this legislation. The fact that I know soldiers who were killed over there had a huge impact on me. You don’t help people, or companies, who are aiding and abetting the enemy.”

Another bill sponsor was State Senator Judson Hill of Georgia. Hill, who during May led a group (including college football coaches Mark Richt of Georgia, Tommy Tuberville of Auburn, Charlie Weis of Notre Dame, Randy Shannon of Miami and Jack Siedlecki of Yale) visiting U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf.

Hill offered these thoughts on why he fought for two years to make Iran divestment a reality in Georgia:

“I did it to protect the values and principles we stand for. The evidence is strong that Iran is underwriting and facilitating those who seek our annihilation. I think we should do anything we can to support our troops—including taking away money from our enemies. I also deeply believe that it is risky for our pensions to be invested in companies that do business in Iran.”

In Maryland, Delegate Ron George worked for two years to help get Iran divestment legislation passed in his state. He was very blunt about his motivation:

“We’re basically funding the opposite side in the war on terror. We need to stop funding the enemy. This is not a game. This is not about politics, nor is it about feeling good about ourselves. This is war.”

As this article goes to press, legislation is actively pending in Pennsylvania, where hearings will be held during June on legislation authored by Representative Josh Shapiro to divest that state’s pension systems from companies doing business with terror sponsors.

News also broke during March that may signal a substantial transformation of the divestment movement into a complete terror-free investment marketplace.

On March 26th, three organizations—FTSE, a large international investment index provider, Conflict Securities Advisory Group (CSAG), the leading provider of anti-terror investment screens, and Northern Trust, a leading American asset management firm—rolled out their new family of terror-free index products, which screen out companies that have active business ties in/with Iran, Syria, Sudan and North Korea.

Because of the immense popularity of index investing, this new terror-free product has the potential to make terror-free investing readily available to everyone in America. This amounts to the privatization of the financial dimension of national security and the war on terrorism by empowering every American to participate in making corporations decide on whether they would prefer to do business with our enemies or have unfettered access to U.S. capital markets.

Americans who have wondered what they can do to help combat terrorism will have the ability to do so by investing terror-free.