Monday, April 23, 2007

This week, the Ohio Legislature will hold its second hearing on legislation designed to help the state make a real contribution to America’s triumph in the War for the Free World. It would prevent investment by Ohio’s public pension funds in companies that do business with the terrorism-sponsoring, nuclear weapons- and ballistic missile-building and genocide-threatening Islamic Republic of Iran.

Unfortunately, the Iranian regime and the corporations partnering with it (almost all of them foreign-owned and -operated, since American companies are prohibited from participating directly in such dealings and only a few circumvent that by using offshore subsidiaries) are abetted by a well-heeled Washington lobby: the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC). Its president is William Reinsch, and the effect of its lobbying at the moment would be to keep American taxpayers and pension fund beneficiaries underwriting our enemies through their institutional and personal investments.

Mr. Reinsch had a checkered career prior to assuming his current role as Terror’s Lobbyist. For example, during the Clinton administration, he used his senior position in the Commerce Department to facilitate and excuse China’s acquisition of an array of sensitive and even dual-use technologies, despite restrictions on such transfers.

Now, the former Commerce undersecretary heads a trade council that favors doing business with America’s enemies and runs interference for those determined to do so. In his present role, Mr. Reinsch works to counter citizens and their elected representatives who believe such business dealings are strategically ill-advised and morally repugnant.

Specifically, Mr. Reinsch’s trade association is mobilizing its considerable resources to help public pension fund managers, their Wall Street advisers and state treasurers fight off initiatives like one adopted last year by Illinois. It ended investments on the part of that state’s firefighters, police officers, National Guard personnel and other public employees in companies doing business with the Islamofascist and genocidal regime in Sudan.

Until, that is, Mr. Reinsch and his friends sued to have the law overturned. While a federal judge did not find the law’s divestment provisions represented an unconstitutional infringement on the foreign-policy-making responsibilities reserved for the federal government, he did object to certain technical points. At the moment, efforts to fix those technicalities and restore the requirement for Sudan-free investing are being discouraged by what amount to Sudan’s lobbyists at the National Foreign Trade Council.

Mr. Reinsch is also working to prevent Ohio from joining other states striving to protect their fiduciaries from what the Securities and Exchange Commission calls “Global Security Risk” arising from investments in companies partnering with the Iranian regime. His team is horrified at the prospect of Ohio compelling Wall Street to create Iran-free accounts, indexes and index-managed products — investment vehicles that would exclude companies doing business with Tehran from many billions worth of state pension fund investments.

In advance of a hearing last week to consider legislation sponsored by State Reps. Joshua Mandel (who knows a thing or two about Iran from his recently completed combat tour as a Marine in Iraq) and Shannon Jones, Mr. Reinsch circulated a letter warning the bill “would broadly and indiscriminately harm U.S. and foreign companies as well as individual pensioners” in Ohio. He also claimed a funding cut-off would be “extremely unlikely to affect the behavior of the Iranian government or help the Iranian people.”

Neither of these can be said of the Mandel-Jones legislation in Ohio. It is targeted legislation that would affect only companies doing business in or with our enemies in Iran. In a riveting congressional hearing chaired in Washington last week by Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat, Missouri Treasurer Sarah Steelman testified that her state’s similar efforts to invest terror-free have not harmed pensioners, let alone indiscriminately so. In fact, the Missouri Investment Trust, the first public fund in the country to divest the stocks of companies doing business with Iran, Syria, Sudan and North Korea, has actually performed better since it was taken terror-free.

As to the effect on Iran of such initiatives as those under way in not only Ohio and Missouri but Florida, California, Illinois, Georgia and Louisiana, they actually could prove as dramatic as the divestment campaign mounted 20 years ago against South Africa. That campaign indisputably helped compel the apartheid regime to abandon its racist policy and ultimately contributed to the government’s fall from power.

Iran is already in difficult economic straits; if fully brought to bear, the power of America’s capital markets could mightily affect corporate behavior, undermining — and, hopefully, helping to bring down — the mullahocracy in Iran.

Interestingly, Mr. Reinsch told a reporter, “You don’t win this particular battle in the hearings; you win the battle in the backroom, where you can explain the consequences of the legislation.” In other words, his clients’ case cannot stand the light of day. Their only chance lies in spooking legislators in settings where their constituents and the press cannot monitor the misinformation and intimidation.

All the more reason for the eyes of Ohioans, and indeed the nation, to be on Wednesday’s hearing in Columbus of the House Financial Institutions, Real Estate and Securities Committee. It should be there, rather than the “backrooms” preferred by terror’s lobbyists, that the fate of the most effective terror-free investing legislation introduced to date should be determined, clearing the way for its swift approval and enactment and creation thereby of a model for every state and American investor.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy. A Center vice president, Christopher Holton, testified in support of the Ohio legislation last week.

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