The Oregon Investment Council manages something like $75 billion in the state’s public pension funds, and it’s a responsibility the council’s members take seriously. They should. As fiduciaries, they have a legal obligation to invest that money wisely, minimizing risk while making as much money as possible. Thus they cannot stash funds in low-interest savings accounts just as they cannot take a flyer on a harebrained scheme that has little chance of success.
It’s that fiduciary responsibility that keeps the council from doing such things as withdrawing investments from businesses whose practices might be unpalatable but are perfectly legal. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what a Portland lawyer is asking the council to do.
Pamela Quinlan is asking the state to divest from two businesses that contract with the federal government to build and operate immigration detention centers. The council has invested only about $2 million total in the pair.
But, as state Treasurer Tobias Read told Willamette Week, the council’s investment decisions must be made without considering politics. Its job is not to invest to encourage causes its members believe are important but to act in the best interest of those whose retirement money is in the state’s care. That means that members of the investment council must set their personal political beliefs aside when choosing how to invest retirement funds. At the same time, and this is perfectly OK, the council joined other investors in one of the two companies to demand more information on its practices and the conditions in its detention centers. That company has said it will produce what was asked for this fall.
There’s nothing wrong with investing your own money to reflect your own political views. That’s not what’s happening here, however. The council is investing other people’s money, and because it’s doing so it must set its members’ views on political matters aside.