Israel divestiture measure cleared to circulate

Secretary of State Debra Bowen today cleared a Sacramento man to take a second crack at putting before California voters an initiative that would bar the state’s gigantic public employee pension funds from investing in companies engaged in certain business activities in Israel.

The Attorney General’s official title and summary for the measure is as follows:

PROHIBITS STATE RETIREMENT FUNDS FROM INVESTING IN COMPANIES ENGAGED IN CERTAIN BUSINESS ACTIVITIES IN ISRAEL. INITIATIVE STATUTE. Requires the Public Employees’ Retirement System and State Teachers’ Retirement System to identify investments in companies that do business related to the construction or maintenance of Israeli settlements, including those in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, or that provide military supplies and services to Israel. Requires retirement funds to urge these companies to stop these business activities, and, subject to fund fiduciary responsibilities, to divest from companies still engaged in these activities. Prohibits retirement funds from making new investments in these companies. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local governments: Potential increase in state and local government pension contributions, the amount of which would vary from negligible to more significant based on how this measure’s divestiture requirements are interpreted and implemented. (10-0020.)

Proponent Chris Yatooma has until Jan. 31 to collect 433,971 valid petition signatures from registered voters in order to place the divestiture measure on the 2012 presidential primary ballot.

According to this Examiner article from earlier this year, Yatooma had tried earlier this year to gather enough signatures to put the measure on this November’s ballot, apparently to no avail.

“We believe the ballot measure is needed so Californians may express their displeasure with Israel’s illegal settlements and Israel’s occupation of Palestine,” says Yatooma’s Israel Divestiture Campaign website. “We hope California will be the first state to apply a comprehensive divestment strategy that other states will follow. This divestment approach looks to mirror the divestment strategy embodied by the worldwide anti-apartheid movement that toppled white rule in South Africa.”

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) manages retirement benefits for more than 1.6 million California public employees, retirees, and their families; its investment portfolio’s market value was $200 billion as of June 30. The California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) had 847,833 total members and beneficiaries and investments with a market value of about $118.9 billion as of mid-2009.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.