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Port: North Dakota tax dollars are financing Putin's regime in Russia

North Dakota's Legacy Fund is invested in bonds to the Russian government, and that needs to stop immediately.

People arrive in Poland after fleeing Ukraine
An American woman cries after crossing the border and fleeing the violence in Ukraine, in Medyka, Poland, on February 24, 2022.
BRYAN WOOLSTON/REUTERS
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Minot, N.D. — It's not news that North Dakota's Legacy Fund, made up of revenues from taxes on the state's oil and gas industry, is invested in some unseemly ways.

I detailed those investments in places like China and Russia in a column way back in 2020 .

But in the context of the Russian regime's bloody aggression in Ukraine, at least some of those investments are looking downright alarming.

This isn't a question of North Dakota's dollars merely being invested in companies based in Russia. The Legacy Fund is invested in the Russian state that is, at this moment, using tanks and bombs and airstrikes in an expansionist war aimed at Ukraine, which is part of a more extensive campaign to reconstitute some modern iteration of the Soviet Union.

According to a spreadsheet of Legacy Fund positions as of June 30, 2021, the money managers who make the fund's investment had put $1.5 million into investments in the Russian Federation.

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That included nearly $640,000 in investments in bonds for the Russian government.

You're reading that right. North Dakota's Legacy Fund is directly financing Vladimir Putin's regime.

The remaining $940,000 was invested in Gaz Cap SA, a subsidiary of JSC Gazprom, a gas company owned by the Russian state. We're not talking about something like Exxon, a company based in the United States but privately held.

The Russian government owns Gazprom.

This is Putin's gas company.

We North Dakotans are his investors.

Do you feel good about that? Because I don't.

Josh Meny, a television reporter for KXNews who has done some excellent work on the Legacy Fund, got Senator John Hoeven on the record about these investments. "Clearly we don't want to have investments that would, you know, in any way help Russia, obviously," Hoeven told Meny. "Any way we can take steps like that, put pressure on Russia, we should do it," he said when asked if North Dakota officials should pull their investments.

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He's right. We should do it. "The United States needs to lead with full-blown sanctions on Russia," Hoeven told KFYR in a separate interview . "We need to make it impossible, if we can, for them to sell their energy. It is their only source of revenue. Europe can't, at the same time, be threatened by Russian aggression, as we've seen in Ukraine, and be buying their energy from Russia."

One way to inhibit Russia's ability to sell its energy is to pull North Dakota's investment in Russia's state-owned gas company.

Why stop with Russia? The Legacy Fund also has millions invested in Chinese companies, including some that helped the communist regime engage in espionage and censorship .

MORE FROM ROB PORT
"I would never and did not advocate for any sort of end-run shenanigans. I wanted to push to make sure that shenanigans weren't being pushed in either direction," North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley said in response to a report that he advocated for recounts in the 2020 election in a message that reached former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows.

And why stop with the Legacy Fund? The State Investment Board doesn't just oversee the Legacy Fund's billions. They also have oversight of the state's various pension investments, too.

Are those funds invested in places like Russia and China, too? It's a question for which we need an answer. We also need to understand why these investments were made in the first place. Surely we can earn investment revenue for the Legacy Fund without helping to finance some of the world's cruelest governments.

But will North Dakota's investment officials act? The SIB has shown an unwillingness to buck the direction of the powerful financial companies hired to manage the state's investments.

To a point, the reluctance is understandable. How political do we want the state's investments to be? In other parts of the country, we see ideologically-driven campaigns against investments in fossil fuel or the firearms industry. We should be careful about opening that door.

Still, opposing the Putin regime's war of aggression, or China's manifest authoritarianism and oppression, is not all that ideological.

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It's just the morally correct thing to do.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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