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The New York Sun: Poll Indicates Support for Divestment From Iran

EXTRACT: The campaign, modeled in part on the divestment strategy employed against South Africa during the apartheid era, may be a more effective way of punishing firms such as Royal Dutch Shell, Total..

THE ARTICLE

By ELI LAKE
Staff Reporter of the Sun
March 13, 2007

WASHINGTON — Nearly 80% of Americans would rather invest in mutual funds and other financial products that exclude companies that do business with state sponsors of terrorism, according to a new poll released today and obtained by The New York Sun.

The survey, commissioned by the Center for Security Policy and conducted by a company run by a Republican pollster, Frank Luntz, found that 77% of respondents said it is important to receive a “reasonable return on my investment” but also to make sure “none of my money helps fund terrorists.”

Seventy-three percent said they strongly agree with the statement “I am not willing to do business with companies that do business in and with terrorist-sponsoring states such as Iran, Syria or Sudan.” Seventy-nine percent said it is unacceptable for anyone to invest in those states.

Those numbers are significant both for K Street and Main Street, as a handful of state treasurers and America’s pro-Israel lobby are launching a divestment strategy aimed at deducting billions in investments from foreign and American companies that do business with Iran, Syria, and Sudan.

The campaign, modeled in part on the divestment strategy employed against South Africa during the apartheid era, may be a more effective way of punishing firms such as Royal Dutch Shell, Total, and even Halliburton — which just announced it was moving its headquarters to Dubai — than some of the tougher sanctions laws introduced last week in the House of Representatives. Those laws threaten companies that develop Iran’s oil industry with exclusion from American financial markets.

“I think we could cut off billions of dollars,” the Missouri state treasurer, Sarah Steelman, told The New York Sun yesterday. “We estimate $1 billion invested in these kinds of companies in my own state. If you look at California and New York, there is literally billions and billions of dollars. The new battlefield is using the financial markets.”

Ms. Steelman and the New York City comptroller, William Thompson, are some of the first public officials to begin strategizing on divestment, but the trend may be expanding. Yesterday, the executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Howard Kohr, told his annual policy conference, “In this next year, Aipac will be working with our partners in Jewish and other organizations to support divestment efforts in 10 states around the country.”

Mr. Kohr asked conference attendees “to work with your state’s decision-makers to educate them and ask them to ensure that their state’s pension funds divest from a regime that threatens the safety of our world.”

Ms. Steelman, a Republican, also is planning to appear before state legislatures in the coming months to talk about the steps she has already taken in Missouri. Last year, she established the country’s first “terror free investment fund” for a state. While at $6 million it is small in relation to the other accounts the state manages, Ms. Steelman said it is important because it was one of the first financial products specifically comprised of investments in companies that are determined to have no holdings or investments in state sponsors of terrorism. A Washington-based company, the Conflict Securities Advisory Group, aggregates data used to determine which companies have such holdings or investments.

But Ms. Steelman also has succeeded in persuading the trustees of her state’s $6 billion pension fund to agree to end any investments in foreign or American companies that deal with state sponsors of terror. She is now working on a nonbinding resolution from her state Legislature that asks all local and county pension funds to divest from companies that do business with state sponsors.

“I believe this is a way for individuals to fight the war on terror,” she said. “It’s certainly a way for institutional investors or managers and treasurers, for people who have control of public dollars, to fight the war.”

http://www.nysun.com/article/50338

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