MINOT, N.D. — Are the members of North Dakota's State Investment Board paying attention to how their money managers are investing North Dakota dollars?
If they are, shame on them, because those dollars are invested in some deeply troubling ways.
If they aren't, well, shame on them again.
Tencent is an internet behemoth based in China. For Americans, it's most well-known product is probably the instant messaging platform WeChat.
In May, CNBC reported that Tencent has been using data collected from its global users to help China's communist government censor internet communications. That same month, U.S. senators called for a ban on the company, calling it an espionage operation. "Anyone concerned about human rights, electoral interference by foreign powers, or privacy violations by tech giants should divest from the company, including retirement funds," Freedom House researcher Sarah Cook wrote last year.
North Dakota's Legacy Fund has invested over $27 million in the company according to a disclosure of foreign investments made by the State Investment Board in response to an open records request.
CNAC HK Finbridge is the finance arm of ChemChina, a Chinese-owned chemical manufacturer. In August, ChemChina was named to a list of "Communist Chinese military companies" by the U.S. Department of Defense, making it eligible for sanctions.
North Dakota's Legacy Fund has invested more than $449,000 in the company.
The fund has $10 million invested in China Merchants Bank, named "China's Most Dangerous Bank" by the Wall Street Journal in 2017, and more than $307,000 in New Oriental Education & Technology Group, which has helped students cheat on SAT exams and commit college application fraud.
We all know that Vladimir Putin and his regime in Russia are no friends of the United States. Russia and its agents oppose American interests globally and routinely seek to meddle in our elections and other internal affairs. Yet North Dakota's Legacy Fund helps fund Putin's government, owning about $2 million worth of bonds issued by the Russian Federation.
The Legacy Fund's principal, which now stands around $7 billion, is accumulated from a share of the taxes paid by North Dakota's oil industry.
How do you suppose the industry feels about the nearly $900,000 worth of Legacy Fund dollars invested in Sinopec, a Chinese-owned oil refiner which is helping fund the Iranian rogue state, and its nuclear aspirations, by refining the country's oil?
The fund also has millions and millions of dollars invested in state-owned oil companies that compete directly with America's privately-owned oil industry, including nearly $6.6 million in Petroleo Mexicano (Mexico), over $283,000 in Petrobras Global (Brazil), and over $4.7 million in the Saudi Arabian Oil Company.
I don't have enough space in this column to list all of the problematic investments made by the Legacy Fund. Every time I scroll through the spreadsheets, another name jumps out.
Like Chinese online retail giant Alibaba which, among other complicities, helped develop a recent propaganda app published by the Chinese Communist Party. The company has also facilitated the counterfeiting of goods made by American companies.
The Legacy Fund has nearly $25 million invested.
How is this OK?
Maybe investments in state-owned oil companies are OK — I mean, even Norway has one — but should North Dakota dollars be invested in ways that help Chinese censorship or Russian belligerence?
These would be questionable investments for a private citizen, investing private dollars, but for a state government investing taxpayer dollars, they are flat-out unacceptable.
Recently Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfread, a member of the State Investment Board, proposed a new investment strategy focusing at least a small percentage of Legacy Fund investments on opportunities within North Dakota's borders. His idea has merit, but for the purposes of this column, one thing revealed in the early debate over it is that almost all of the Legacy Fund's billions are invested outside of North Dakota.
Over $1.6 billion is invested outside of the country.
We can do better than that.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.