This guest post was submitted by attorney and Fargo resident Luke Heck.
As we approach the ten-year anniversary of our state’s adoption of the Legacy Fund into our Constitution this November, it is time that we, as a state, consider ensuring that the fund’s principal, or at least part of it, is actually being invested within North Dakota. Right now, this unfortunately is not the case. Instead, rather than investing any of the fund’s principal within the state, the State Investment Board has invested in multiple out-of-state and out-of-country investments, including multiple companies with less than stellar connections to the Chinese Communist Party, and some who have allegedly been complicit in China’s ongoing human rights violations.
Recent articles in the Fargo Forum and elsewhere have raised concerns of our state investing funds into Chinese companies. In one article, Senator Kevin Cramer is quoted regarding this concern, noting that “many people have no idea that, through their contributions to pension funds or retirement accounts, they could be helping pay for actions they don’t support or find concerning.” Further review of our state’s investment of Legacy Fund principal evidences that not just pension holders and retirees may be helping pay for actions they don’t support or find concerning, but our entire state is.
For instance, our Legacy Fund has invested over 12 million dollars in the Chinese company Tencent, a company that President Trump, as recently as August 6, 2020, issued an Executive Order prohibiting from doing business in the United States. Tencent owns WeChat, a social media application used by the Chinese government to surveil its country’s Uyghur ethnic minority, and take action against those who were expressing their religious views on social media. Earlier this year, released drone footage captured the Chinese government transferring multiple detained Uyghurs by train from, as former National Security Adviser John Bolton characterized them in his book, one concentration camp to another.
The concerns, however, do not end with Tencent. Our Legacy Fund also has invested nearly 15 million dollars in Alibaba, a Chinese company that the U.S. government has blacklisted as a major source of counterfeit goods sold to U.S. consumers. LVMH, short for Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, has over 14 million dollars of Legacy Fund principal invested in it as well. The Trump administration has slapped significant tariffs on LVMH for “ripping off” the United States, causing its profits to plunge. However, LVMH did purchase Tiffany & Co., so return on investment or not, the company is at least ensuring that our state is well diversified in foreign luxury product holdings. To add to this, one of the Legacy Fund’s 32 Wall Street money managers, Goldmann Sachs, just recently settled on of its worst scandals in history, paying out $3.9 billion to Malaysia for the bank’s role in the apparent theft of billions of dollars from a, wait for it, government investment fund.
Keep in mind, the millions invested in these companies is just pertaining to the Legacy Fund, and additional financial investments into these companies could exist as well when considering our other state investment funds. Additionally, these are just investments that have been identifiable to date. We, at least I, do not know what other international companies with checkered histories that the Legacy Fund has principal invested in. With that, it appears rather prudent that our state investment entities disclose to the public the big picture, and let us see what companies we have entrusted out Legacy Fund with. Transparency is necessary to ensure our money is going is being invested in companies that can be trusted to ethically handle it.
The Legacy Fund that we, as North Dakotans, placed in our Constitution is being invested in questionable-at-best foreign companies, while simultaneously remaining sealed for any of its principal to be used within North Dakota. In other words, we are investing in Main Street, China, while not doing anything for Main Street, Carrington. We need to fix this. In-state investments, be it with our local banks or investments in businesses, expansions, attractions, or ideas, would surely generate the same amount of revenue that these foreign conglomerates are providing percentage wise. So long as we invest within the state wisely, of course.
My hope is that, by raising this issue, the powers that be in Bismarck are able to take steps to address our current investment portfolio, and will ensure our Legacy Fund is not only being invested in international companies, but also within the state. If not, I would urge voters to consider voting on a measure, as soon as 2022, to ensure our money is being invested, at least in part, where it was earned: within the State of North Dakota.
I will end with this. Last legislative session, the North Dakota Legislature created an interim Legislative Management Committee for Legacy Fund Earnings. The language creating this committee expressly cites that the committee may consider public input on the use of legacy fund earnings, as well as review the operation of other funds, such as Norway’s sovereign wealth fund. A basic review of Norway’s sovereign wealth fund evidences that Norway has excluded a number of companies from their fund for activities deemed to be in breach of its ethical guidelines. One excluded company is Phillip Morris, big tobacco in other words, which is far from shocking. However, Norway further excluded Wal-Mart, yes Wal-Mart, from its investment portfolio due to human and labor rights concerns.
If the country’s model our legislature is recommended to review for guidance bans Wal-Mart from their fund, right or wrong, is it really too much to ask that we invest some of our Legacy Fund principal within our state, and maybe not invest in international companies banned, blacklisted, or both by our federal government? At least not in companies allegedly complicit in the Chinese Communist Party’s human rights violations?
After all, it is our money.