And there are legitimate concerns about the operation of private prisons, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Of course that begs the question of why it’s bad to invest in private prisons like Florida-based GEO Group Inc. and Tennessee-based CoreCivic but OK to dump hundreds of millions of New Mexico taxpayers’ dollars into funding them.)
But the bigger issue is that such a change in policy would open the door to allowing politics and/or personal agendas to enter the investing process. Today it is private prisons, tomorrow it could be tobacco or alcohol companies, oil and gas producers, soda or candymakers, art galleries or book publishers, or any other business endeavor.
Yes, it’s worth the board having a discussion with all members if there are industries or business practices they feel should be shunned. Those that profit from detention-camp and child labor come to mind. But that membership vote should be part of the process. At its core the ERB is entrusted with delivering secure retirement benefits to active and retired employees of New Mexico public schools, institutions of higher learning and certain employees at state agencies who work in educational programs, not allowing vocal activists to become those retirees’ moral compass.
Meanwhile, it’s unclear just how the board would – or if it could – decouple certain stocks from index funds, or if members plan to replace those they dislike with stocks more politically or socially in favor, and if so, favored by whom?
The $12 billion pension fund’s chief investment officer told ERB board members previous policies did not give staff the authority to pick and choose stocks from market-determined index funds. David Powell, a Washington D.C.-based attorney and investment adviser, also reminded board members they are required to prioritize the fund and its beneficiaries over outside interests and concerns. “You’re not supposed to sacrifice return for other particular factors,” he said.
That seems pretty straightforward. And unless its members tell it otherwise, the ERB should stick to that practice.
More than 110,000 retirees’ futures depend on it.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.