October 3, 2008— -- Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin fought to protest atrocities in Sudan by dropping assets tied to the country's brutal regime from the state's multi-billion-dollar investment fund, she claimed during Thursday's vice presidential debate.
Not quite, according to a review of the public record – and according to the recollections of a legislator and others who pushed a measure to divest Alaskan holdings in Sudan-linked investments.
"The [Palin] administration killed our bill," said Alaska state representative Les Gara, D-Anchorage. Gara and state Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, co-sponsored a resolution early this year to force the Alaska Permanent Fund – a $40 billion investment fund, a portion of whose dividends are distributed annually to state residents – to divest millions of dollars in holdings tied to the Sudanese government.
In an e-mail later, Gara clarified that he believed opposition from the Palin administration helped kill his bill, but was not solely responsible for its death.
In Thursday's debate, Palin said she had advocated the state divest from Sudan. "When I and others in the legislature found out that we had some millions of dollars [of Permanent Fund investments] in Sudan, we called for divestment through legislation of those dollars," Palin said.
But a search of news clips and transcripts from the first three months of this year did not turn up an instance in which Palin mentioned the Sudanese crisis or concerns about Alaska's investments tied to the ruling regime. Moreover, Palin's administration openly opposed the bill, and stated its opposition in a public hearing on the measure.
"The legislation is well-intended, and the desire to make a difference is noble, but mixing moral and political agendas at the expense of our citizens' financial security is not a good combination," testified Brian Andrews, Palin's deputy revenue commissioner, before a hearing on the Gara-Lynn Sudan divestment bill in February. Minutes from the meeting are posted online by the legislature.
Gara says the lack of support from Palin's administration helped kill the measure.
"I walked out of that hearing livid," Gara recalled of the February meeting. Because of the Palin administration's opposition to the bill, "We could not get a vote in that committee," he explained. At no point did Palin come out in support of the effort, Gara said.
The bill's Republican co-sponsor remembers things differently. "I know she was very strongly behind this," said Rep. Lynn. Asked why, if Palin supported the bill, one of her administration's officials would speak against it, Lynn demurred. "We don't all work in lockstep here," he said. "People have different opinions," he added.
Lynn said he and Palin agreed to re-introduce the bill next January, and push to pass it then. He declined to consider whether stronger support from Palin would have helped the bill survive this winter. "I'm not going to do this what if, what if, what if," he said. "These are hypotheticals."
Gara said that after it was clear the bill had stalled, he and others pressed the administration directly on Sudan divestment.
"We were outraged," Gara recounted. "We went to the Commissioner of Revenue and said, 'What the hell are you guys doing? This is genocide. We're going to keep pushing this until we divest."
Two months later, at the end of the legislative session, the administration softened its position. Appearing before a Senate committee which was considering a companion measure to Gara's bill, Palin's Revenue commissioner, Patrick Galvin, stated the administration supported such a measure, though it hoped to amend the bill to allow for investments held indirectly, for example in index funds.
"We have a moral responsibility to condemn the genocide in Darfur," Palin told a reporter in April, through a spokesperson. "I commend the actions of the Senate State Affairs Committee and I hope the entire legislature gets a chance to weigh in on this matter."
"At the last minute they showed up" and supported the divestment effort, Gara said. But by then the legislative session was almost over, and there wasn't enough time to get it passed.
The Alaska Permanent Fund currently holds $22 million in Sudan-linked investments, according to the non-profit Sudan Divestment Task Force. Divestment advocates say the fund does not need an act of the state legislature to divest itself of those holdings.
The McCain-Palin campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has been a strong supporter of Sudan divestment efforts, and has urged Americans to liquidate their holdings in companies who do business there. He was criticized for that position when it was revealed in May his wife Cindy held $2 million in investment funds owning shares of Sudan-linked companies. She sold those holdings following a reporter's inquiries.