News item: "Presidential candidates Rudy Giuliani and John Edwards, who have spoken out about genocide in Darfur, did not know their financial holdings included investments in companies doing business in Sudan, aides said Thursday."
The AP wire story picked up by a number of publications last Friday said the two campaigns responded as if they had been handed hot rocks. "An Edwards campaign spokesman said the former Democratic senator from North Carolina would sell thousands of dollars of Sudan-related funds. 'He did not know about it and will divest.' " For the Giuliani campaign's part, spokeswoman Maria Comella was quoted as saying, "The mayor was unaware of this connection, but is taking it very seriously." She added that Mr. Giuliani and his staff would review his portfolio and "ultimately take appropriate action."
As it happens, two other presidential candidates narrowly averted being caught with a similar political, as well as financial, liability: Sens. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, and Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican. Their disclosure reports revealed they had recently divested the stocks of companies doing business with the genocidal, Islamofascist, slave-trading, weapons of mass destruction-proliferating and terrorist-sponsoring regime in Sudan.
The same AP story indicated "Obama placed the total value of his divestitures at $180,000." Mr. Brownback was even more politically exposed since he was "among members of Congress who [last year] wrote 44 governors to urge them to divest their employee pension funds from businesses linked to Sudan."
These presidential wannabes may soon have company. Business Week reported May 18: "The federal Office of Government Ethics wants former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain to open up their blind family trusts because they were not set up under the agency's standards. That means that the trusts, created so that elected officials could avoid conflicts of interest between their financial holdings and their official acts, will now be in plain sight for the public and the candidates to see."
In other words, we may shortly know whether all of the first-tier candidates have been investing presumably, inadvertently in companies partnering with one of the most odious governments on the planet. It seems likely all will feverishly reposition their portfolios to do as Messrs. Obama and Brownback have already done: Invest Sudan-free.
While they are at it, these would-be leaders of the Free World would be well-advised to demonstrate their leadership on another, related front: They should instruct their portfolio managers to ensure they are investing terror-free not just from Sudan, but from three other U.S. State Department-designated state-sponsors of terrorism: Iran, Syria and North Korea.
As it happens, in recent months, virtually all the leading contenders have publicly espoused one form or another of terror-free investing. They are responding to a rising alarm in Washington and in a growing number of state capitals (including those of Missouri, Florida, California, Ohio and Louisiana): Investments in companies that provide financing, know-how, technology and services to the regimes in Tehran, Damascus, Pyongyang as well as Khartoum are providing significant cash-flow, and life-support, for our enemies.
Unfortunately for Messrs. Giuliani and Edwards, the funds that recently embarrassed them over Sudan are also invested in one or more of the other state-sponsors of terror. For example, the seventh-largest holding in Mr. Giuliani Vanguard Wellington Fund is Total SA. The French oil giant is identified as one of the "Dirty Dozen" by the Center for Security Policy's Terror-Free Investing initiative (www.DivestTerror.org). Total makes a point of doing extensive business in U.S.-sanctioned countries that are therefore off-limits to its U.S. competitors.
The fact Mr. Edward's portfolio has been invested in the American Europacific Growth Fund means he has owned several other Dirty Dozen companies, in addition to Total. These include: BNP Paribas, Oil & Natural Gas, Ltd, Petrochina and Siemens.
It is likely that, when the other top contenders' blind trusts are made public, they too will have invested in terror-sponsoring regimes' business partners. There is nothing illegal about holding such investments in portfolio. Nor are the mostly foreign-owned companies doing business in Iran, Syria, North Korea and Sudan violating their respective countries' laws.
To the contrary, most of their governments strongly support such activity, often going so far providing political risk insurance and other inducements to operate in or with these pariah states. (Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat, holds a hearing this week on the possible exposure of the U.S. counterpart program, the Overseas Private Investment Corp. [OPIC], to similar underwriting.) Since many of these are very profitable companies, they are favored by fund managers for international investment vehicles and diversified portfolios.
For this reason, the embarrassment now felt by investors who also are presidential candidates could have a very positive up-side. By now making the politically necessary divestments of all terror regime-related stocks, they can help impel wider terror-free investing initiatives by state pensions, other institutional funds and private citizens and thus deny our enemies vital cash-flow. In so doing, the would-be leaders and those they hope to lead can finally bring to bear a formidable and potentially decisive financial weapon in this War for the Free World.