Political Hay

Teachers’ Pet: Big Oil

Labor allies of Obama, Pelosi, rake in millions from rise at gas pumps.

By 6.17.08

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The party of Obama and Pelosi is out there just pounding away at the Big Oil companies over the high price of gas at the pump. Greedy, they say. Heartless, they claim. Mean, cold, and uncaringly rich, they insist.

Yet in the v-e-r-r-r-r-y quiet precincts that represent the intersection between a key constituency of Democrats -- public employee unions -- and the pension funds that provide for said employees when they retire, guess what? Yes, indeed, these fine liberals are going out of their way to invest in...Big Oil. You read that right. At the intersection of Big Union and Big Money streets, the streets that can take you to Big Power Avenue, the political clout of the Democrats is being fueled by huge investments in Big Oil.

Let's take a look.

WISCONSIN: The Governor of Wisconsin is a gentleman by the name of Jim Doyle. He is a Democrat. He is an enthusiastic supporter of Senator Obama, endorsing his candidate back in January when it seriously counted. He is just as enthusiastic about making a show of going after Big Oil. Doyle, after staff mumbles about a company's fiduciary responsibility and vouching, sort of, for the concept of a company earning profits, has called the profits of Big Oil "excessive." A Doyle staff member, speaking for the Governor, says his boss is really upset that "the big oil companies have been making profits in excess in anything we have ever seen. And at the same time, regular Wisconsin families are struggling to pay rising prices at pump." The Doyle solution, naturally, is right out of the Obama playbook: a Wisconsin oil surcharge. Doyle's critics say the oil companies will simply pass the costs on to Wisconsin consumers.

So far, so good. This is what Democrats do, right? They always seem to have skipped that basic class in Economics 101. Ahhhh. But did they? It seems that very quietly, over there at the intersection of Big Union and Big Money Streets, what do we find? According to WisBusiness.com, which bills itself as "Wisconsin's Business News Source," we find this treasure trove of obscure information. Reporter Brian Clark, in a much nationally uncovered story from May of 2007, tells us the State of Wisconsin Investment Board (SWIB) had earned "nearly $400 million over the past four years." How was that? Reports Clark:

According to the State of Wisconsin Investment Board, cash earnings from the portfolios of five major oil companies managed by SWIB staff and external managers totaled nearly $207 million from January 2003 to March 2007. Those firms are BP Amoco, Chevron Texaco, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell.

During the same period, the value of the state pension fund rose from $51 billion to $85 billion, SWIB officials said.

In the last two years, oil company portfolios controlled by external managers saw cash gains of nearly $50 million. Those stocks were invested in Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and BP. (Figures from 2003 to 2005 were not available.)

And as of April 2, SWIB's accounting records also show unrealized gains (which have not been cashed out) of more than $134 million in both internally and externally managed oil company portfolios. In addition, SWIB has numerous commingled funds, some of which have investments in oil companies. (Some of those holdings go back even further than 2003, officials said.)


Well. Let's follow the money, shall we?

The SWIB includes, by Wisconsin law, a representative of "the Teachers Retirement Board." Teachers. Teachers who are in turn represented by a union, specifically in this case the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC). According to the website Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which reports on money in Wisconsin politics, WEAC is "among the largest contributors in Wisconsin politics" spending almost $1.5 million in the 2002 political cycle. It is, amazingly enough, a supporter of Governor Doyle.

So in other words, the Wisconsin teachers union is seeing to it that their members' pension money is invested in Big Oil. Guaranteeing paychecks for union members will be secured long beyond their active teaching days -- thanks to Big Oil. The members in turn contribute to WEAC's political action committee, which in turn contributes to, in this case, Governor Doyle. Who, if he gets his way, will place a "surtax" on Big Oil, which will promptly pass the cost on to Wisconsin consumers, thus ensuring that the huge investment by the Wisconsin teachers union goes -- up. Neat little racket, no? What says the Governor of Wisconsin about all the dough being made by teachers who have a piece of Big Oil? According to Clark, Governor Doyle "isn't bothered."

CALIFORNIA: Calpers. The California Public Employees' Retirement System. Befitting America's largest state, Calpers is a very big deal in investment circles. Heading up its board is one Mr. Rob Feckner. The Calpers website says their board president "is also the Association President of the California School Employees Association, and he is serving his 14th year on the Board of Directors. He also serves as an Executive Vice President of the California Labor Federation."

On the surface, Mr. Feckner is out there, just like his fellow Democrat Governor Doyle in Wisconsin, railing against Big Oil. In March of this year his union put out a press release with this typical populist pitch: "Assembly Republicans Vote Against Saving California's Schoolchildren, Side With Rich Oil Companies." Yet if you dig around, you find this underreported little nugget about Mr. Feckner's Calpers, according to a February 2008 story on Bloomberg News:

Calpers, which has about $240 billion in assets, agreed at a Feb. 19 board meeting to hold between 0.5 percent and 3 percent of its assets in commodities.....The Sacramento, California-based fund last year put $450 million into commodities, its first such investment.

Commodities?

This is trader talk for, yes indeed, oil. As in, Big Oil. In other words, to fill its members' coffers, California unions -- Obama supporters and Democrats mind you -- are investing Big Time in Big Oil. When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- a California Democrat who receives support from Mr. Feckner's union -- plays for votes by saying "oil companies are making tens of billions of dollars in record profits," she somehow manages to leave out that it is her buddies who in fact are profiting from those very same "tens of billions."

As it happens, Calpers is also the 13th-largest holder of stock in Democrat billionaire Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway. In that role, Calpers has shown it is so devoted to its Big Oil investments that in 2007 it even voted against a move by a Berkshire investor to force Berkshire to sell its shares in PetroChina, the Chinese government-owned oil company. The investor was disturbed that PetroChina was doing business in the Sudan, where the government stands accused of genocide by a number of nations including the United States. According to Bloomberg News, a Calpers spokeswoman said that "telling a company how to invest would go beyond a governance issue" that is typically addressed by Calpers. "We believe it would do long-term harm to the company, so we're voting against it."

So Mr. Feckner's union, a huge shareholder in Big Oil, opted to keep the oil spigot gushing for its union members in spite of the fact that this was enriching the Communist government of China and grinding the already terrified targets of the genocide in Sudan. Does liberal Sudan activist actor George Clooney know about this? If so, does he approve? Meanwhile, in Washington, California U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat and ally of Mr. Feckner's union, took to the Senate floor to play the offended Senator, knowing full well the unwary in this election year could respond with votes to anybody appearing to save them from the high prices at the pump. She excoriated Big Oil, saying that when it comes to their huge profit Big Oil should "give it back to us." Perhaps she should just call Mr. Feckner.

ILLINOIS: Over in Illinois is teacher Cinda Klickna, a contributor to the National Education Association's Fund for Children and Public Education, a PAC listed as an Obama contributor. Klickna sits as a member of the board of the Illinois Teachers Retirement System (TRS) in Senator Obama's home state. You may have heard of TRS if the name Tony Rezko rings a bell, Rezko is the Obama friend recently convicted for, in the words of the New York Times, "a plan to steer teachers' pension investments to firms that would provide kickbacks."

While mail fraud, as Rezko has now learned, is illegal, political fraud is not only quite legal but commonplace when it comes to Democrats and Big Oil in Illinois. Specifically, according to a February 25, 2008 story in the Dow Jones Financial News Online, the Illinois TRS, the board of which counts teacher Klickna as a member, "has invested $600 million in commodities including oil and gas, making it the second multi-million-dollar commitment by a US public pension plan to such energy assets within a week."

The Illinois branch of the NEA prominently displays on its website the news of the national NEA's endorsement of favorite son and Illinois teachers ally Obama. Unlike the Calpers stance with Berkshire Hathaway and Sudan, the TRS has divested itself -- because it has been instructed to do so by state law -- from any oil company doing business in either Sudan or Iran. But as for oil companies doing business outside of those two countries? No problem for the teachers who love TRS. Hey, it's only $600 million dollars.

WHICH BRINGS US To the next logical question here: divestment.

Divestment is one of those moral certainties liberals employ when they want to call attention to what they deem bad behavior, as those in Illinois saw over in the Sudan and Iran. It is such a favorite tool of the left that this now becomes the place to ask: When will the Democrats and their political allies divest themselves from...Big Oil? Just....get out? These are companies that are regularly assailed for "greed" or "obscene profits" by any liberal findable by Google. So isn't now the time for Democrats and their teacher and public employee union allies to forget the oil profits they have been quietly amassing and get out of the oil business entirely? Instruct the teachers and public employee representatives on the boards of pension funds in places like Wisconsin, California and Illinois to just get their members pensions out of the oil business -- period? To go look their members in the eye and tell them that they agree with Speaker Pelosi, Senator Obama and Senator Hillary "I want those profits" Clinton? To tell their members the checks they receive are the rotten fruit of ill-gotten gains? To tell them that no retired teacher or any other state or public employee should have to carry the burden of knowing that their retirement security comes not from their years of service but because their leaders have greedily turned them into the lackeys of Big Oil?

Better yet, what about the unions sitting on the boards of funds like Calpers following Senator Boxer's advice? How about turning over the profits these union pension fund managers have gleaned from all those profiteering oil companies and just set up a gas fund for the rest of us -- giving those of us not vested in a teachers "Big Oil" pension fund the relief at the pump that we all deserve? The idea is so...well...Jimmy Carteresque. Or perhaps I should now say Obamaesque. Morally superior. Presuming fairness. Taking the profits from the rich oil companies to give to the poor. Think of the great slogans for the anti-oil pension fund marches. Don't Teach for Oil or Stop Rigging Teachers Retirement or No Oil for Pensions. Maybe we will even see Democrats like Senator Obama starting to refuse support from teachers unions on principle. After all, he doesn't take support from Big Oil, right?

You have to admit this is a diabolically clever win-win strategy. You might even call it a teachable moment: liberals attack Big Oil to get votes while in fact their union pals are quietly raking in hundreds of millions from owning it, getting all the political power that comes along in the bargain. If they ever get the chance to do the Obama-Jimmy Carter windfall profits tax, the oil companies will simply pass the cost on to you and me, making us all contribute even more millions to teacher pensions every time we fill up.

Perhaps the great comic strip character Pogo provides the best slogan of all for the liberals who are now revealed as the real power behind Big Oil, the real evil geniuses making us all choose between food or gas.

"We have met the enemy, and he is us."

Jeffrey Lord is the creator, co-founder and CEO of QubeTV, an online conservative video site. A Reagan White House political director and author, he writes from Pennsylvania.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.