Cherny seeks Arizona divestment from Iran

On Sept. 17, State Treasurer candidate Andrei Cherny announced his plan to lead an effort to divest Arizona’s stock holdings from companies that do business with Iran and other state sponsors of terrorism.

According to Cherny, Arizona owns stock in about two dozen companies that are listed on the Iran Business Registry as doing business with Iran, directly or through subsidiaries. Those companies, Cherny said, include AGCO, Terex and Ametek.

Cherny points out that there are large companies like Exxon Mobil on the list, and says that Arizona may not be able to — and perhaps should not — completely divest itself from every such company, but that “we should, as we’re making investments, keep one eye on the companies that are doing business directly or indirectly with Iran as part of our decision-making.”

The Iran Business Registry, launched last year by a group called United Against Nuclear Iran, is a running database of international business in Iran.

Cherny believes that owning stock in companies that do business with state sponsors of terrorism like Iran is potentially risky “because of the very fluid national security situation” there.

Additionally, he says, “we need to be making investments that are in line with our values as Arizonans. … Even a small amount of money going to terrorists from Arizona’s taxpayers is too much.”

Asked whether the investments he lists violate any government sanctions, Cherny said, “That’s one of the questions we have to ask. Some of these sanctions issues are tied up in government investigations, and we may not know for years to come how those investigations will turn out. But that’s one of the reasons we have to be especially vigilant ourselves, to really start asking tough questions of the corporations as major shareholders, which is what we are.”

Cherny believes that divestment campaigns, like the one against the apartheid regime in South Africa in the 1980s, can have a big impact. “If we can provide some leadership from Arizona that’s going to push the divestment movement against Iran, that has the potential to push things in the right direction, just like sanctions do coming from the international community.”

The issue is also personal for him. “My grandparents were concentration camp survivors, and there were a lot of companies in the 1930s that were doing business with Germany and looking the other way at what was going on in that country because they wanted to make a good profit. I think that finding the best value in investment is important, but making sure it aligns with our values is important too.”

Cherny’s opponent, Doug Ducey, said that Cherny was making “quite an allegation.”

“The way I understand the position of state treasurer is to be a good and prudent manager … of the taxpayer’s money,” Ducey said. “The equities are held in the S&P 500 and S&P 400 midcap, and that is prescribed by the guidelines that have been listed by the Board of Investment. So that part of it’s been predetermined.”

Asked whether some S&P companies might be doing business with Iran, Ducey replied, “We’re talking about a hypothetical. I do not, of course, want to invest in any company that is aiding Iran. But I am not aware of what that company is.”

Deborah Susser is associate editor of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix. Reprinted with permission.