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Whose money is it anyway?

If you build a pile of pension money, they will come.

By “they,” I mean people who want to use the money to push their own causes.

Case in point is New York State’s big pension fund. It is for the retirement of various state and local government workers. It is run by the state comptroller.


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The comptroller sets broad investment policies. He hires money management firms to invest the fund’s money in stocks, bonds, and other assets. The firms are experts in particular fields such as foreign stocks or bonds from big companies.

The comptroller recently found a bunch of elected officials on his doorstep — from various New York villages and towns. They lobbied him to get the state retirement fund to sell off its investments in fossil-fuel companies. The fund has about $10 billion invested in such companies.

Excuse me, but does the money belong to these officials? Did voters elect them to pick winners and losers in stocks and bonds? Did voters elect them to push environmental issues? With money that belongs to state and local government workers.

I don’t believe that is the case.

Simple point: A pension fund’s sole purpose is to pursue the financial benefit of its members. Its purpose does not include promoting the causes of the left or right. Or the causes of environmentalists. Or anybody’s causes other than the cause of the workers when they retire.

Too many officials fail to recognize this. They see the money as their play money, I guess.

Now, you may be comfortable with this. You may fear for our environment. So much so that it is OK for guys who run public pension funds to boot fossil-fuel companies from the funds’ investments.

But how would you feel if the boot was on somebody else’s foot? Suppose these guys are vegans. OK for them to dump stocks of companies that deal in meat? Or stocks of fish and seafood companies?

Suppose the pension fund managers are health nuts. OK for them to dump non-organic companies? Should they sell off their shares of McDonalds? And all fast-food companies? No money in Coke?

Suppose they were born in Europe. They love public transport — as opposed to cars. Is it OK for them to dump stocks in auto companies?

Suppose they are bird lovers. OK for them to dump stocks of companies involved with wind power? After all, those windmills grind up countless eagles and other precious birds.

Suppose they are isolationists. OK to dump all foreign stocks and bonds from pension portfolios?

Suppose they feel our big banks got us into the housing and banking crisis of a few years ago. OK for them to dump banking stocks from the pension investments?

Pension funds are for the financial benefit of pensioners — and future pensioners. The money in pension funds belongs to them. It should be invested to get the best return for their fund. It should not be invested to satisfy political beliefs. Or environmental beliefs. Or any other beliefs and prejudices.

Pensioners may want to invest to support favorite or popular causes. Trustees and other elected officials may want to do the same. They should do it with their own money. And not with money that belongs to members of a pension fund.

From Tom…as in Morgan.

Tom Morgan writes about political, financial and other subjects from his home near Oneonta. Several upstate radio stations carry his daily commentary, Tom Morgan’s Money Talk. Contact him at


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