This one surprised even me. It was a November 1st story by Whitney Downard in the Indiana Capital Chronicle that caught my eye a day after it ran. The story came following an announcement by Indiana State Treasurer Daniel Elliott that the state would purchase $35 million of additional Israeli Bonds, a 55% increase of the $65 million Indiana already held.
Not announcing the purchase would have been suspicious. A quiet announcement with no additional commentary would be equally so. Either of these options might lead Hoosiers to believe the purchase was being made purely for politics instead of wise financial strategy. It could have led members of the Indiana Public Retirement System, of which I am a member, to question the prudence of the purchase.
What surprised me was that Elliott put out a press release admitting, even celebrating, the move as if it doesn’t fly in the face of the principles to which he passionately subscribed earlier this very year. Now, I know a year is a long time. So, let’s review.
In an interview with Kaitlin Lange of State Affairs that ran on June 5th, Elliott explained why he supported the passage of House Enrolled Act 1008 during this year’s legislative session. This new law placed limits on the state’s ability to invest in environmental, social and corporate governance, or ESG, funds. ESG investments have come under fire by mainly Republican elected officials as partisan in nature since they ultimately focus on ventures pursuing outcomes the GOP opposes. Ventures like green power, sustainable manufacturing, diversity and inclusion programs, are causing the outrage. You know, crazy ideas that are the general direction of the business world in 2023, not to mention the future.
Elliott said in that June 5th article that, “If we look at the markets you have a lot of investment fund managers who have been pushing policy, not just looking at the fiduciary reasons for why to invest. I am uncomfortable with that.” He wasn’t going so far as to say he wanted to eliminate ESG investing, just that he wanted to ensure the investments continued to be wise, with or without the ESG designation.
It’s hard even for a complainer like me to object to his stated position here. But Elliott’s press release on Wednesday is entirely about policy, not finance. A policy with which he apparently agrees, along with a group of state administrators known as the State Financial Officers Foundation, or SFOF. Elliott is an officer of the conservative group.
From Downard’s story last week, the Israeli Bond purchase was made “after a presentation to Elliott and his team where they learned about ‘an opportunity to purchase bonds at 28 basis points higher than US Treasuries, which are the baseline that most tend to use as comparison.’” I don’t know where this “presentation” came from or took place, but I’m betting SFOF played a role.
Callum Jones reported for The Guardian on Friday that credit ratings agencies were cautious about the Israeli investments. S&P Global Ratings actually downgraded Israel’s outlook from stable to negative, citing “the risk that the Israel-Hamas war could spread more widely or affect Israel’s credit metrics more negatively than we expect.”
Fourteen states have upped their Israel investments since October 7th, twelve of them are SFOF members. Look closely at Elliott’s celebratory release. Sure, it’s poorly written and void of any explanation of any financial benefit of the move, which is his charge. But the risky purchase is clearly a philanthropic expression of support for Israel. And that “expression” is being made with our money.
I wrote about the ESG issue way back in February. Nine months ago, it was Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita who was among 19 attorneys general signing onto a letter objecting to BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, and it’s ESG portfolio. In it, the AGs accused “BlackRock of making decisions based on its alleged political agenda rather than the welfare of state pensions.”
Rokita, who should still be reeling from a reprimand and fine he received last week from the Indiana Supreme Court, doubled down on his anti-ESG crusade with a Sunday announcement of more action. Both he and Elliott seem to think no one is paying attention to the details.
Well boys, I am. And I am not going to let this go.
If supporting ESG investing is “woke,” so is opposing it for its “wokeness.” And if investing public funds to support “political agendas” is wrong, this risky $35 million purchase is equally wrong.
These statewide elected officials are mocking Hoosiers here. They think we all just-don’t-know-no-better. It’s way past time to prove them wrong.