ILLINOIS (WCIA) — In a race increasingly defined by money, Democrats running for governor continue to clash over how much they have, how much they spend on their campaign, and how much they invest in companies whose interests may run counter to their own political platforms.
Democrat Chris Kennedy set out in pursuit of the moral high ground on Tuesday, launching a new line of attack against one of his primary opponents, accusing state senator Daniel Biss of a financial “flip flop” since his state pension benefits from the sale of firearms and ammunition.
“[Biss] speaks about the horrors of guns and benefits from investments in them at the same time,” Kennedy said in a Tuesday morning press conference in Chicago. “Biss has been in Springfield seven years and has done way too little to be a responsible steward of his investments or the investments of the people of the state.”
At the direction of the Treasurer’s Office, the state of Illinois holds stock in weapons manufacturers such as Sturm, Ruger and Co. and Vista Outdoor. According to a 2016 annual report from the Illinois State Board of Investments, Illinois taxpayers also hold stock in companies that produce body armor, drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico, an oil company that filed for bankruptcy, and the largest publicly traded tobacco company in the world.
The state of Illinois also holds stock in CBS Corporation and Nexstar Broadcasting, the network affiliate and parent company of this television station.
Unlike personal investments held by private investors, Biss does not unilaterally hold the power to invest in or divest from these companies, although he does possess a lesser degree of influence as a member of the General Assembly. The Biss campaign did not directly respond to Kennedy’s press conference, but did point to several gun regulations Biss co-sponsored as evidence that he supports stricter gun control laws.
In January, Biss issued a similar call for his opponents J.B. Pritzker and Kennedy to divest from “dirty energy” companies. A spokeswoman for the Kennedy campaign says Kennedy had already “proactively” divested from those companies in late 2017 before Biss issued that press release.
“When Chris learned his index funds held those investments, he immediately divested,” Rebecca O’Halloran Evans said, adding that Kennedy instructed his advisors to only invest in “socially responsible” portfolios. She says his instructions to divest applied to tobacco companies too.
The Biss campaign repeated those calls again Tuesday afternoon in a campaign email blast titled ‘The Billionaire Playbook Play of the Day: Presidential Emoluments.” The email claimed “Pritzker and Kennedy hold investments in dirty energy companies that are seeking to influence Donald Trump by holding their annual lobbying convention at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
“In addition to his oil and fracking investments, Pritzker also enjoys a partnership stake in the Dakota Access Pipeline,” the email said.
“Apparently desperate times call for desperate measures on the Biss campaign,” Pritzker campaign spokeswoman Galia Slayen fired back, adding, “this series of convoluted arguments add up up to a big lie. Hope Dan [Biss] can do that math.” Slayen did not directly answer whether or not Pritzker has divested from any of the companies he listed in his economic disclosure form.
The Pritzker campaign retort alludes to a discredited math study Biss published during his days as a professor.
State Treasurer Michael Frerichs’ office resisted Kennedy’s calls for the state to divest in oil and firearms companies. Spokeswoman Paris Ervin responded that Frerichs “uses sound investment principles, not morality, to guide investment decisions.”
Frerichs has previously leveraged the state’s position as a shareholder to called on companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google to alter their behavior and “protect the public from fake news.”
But for Frerichs, divestment is a step too far.
“Investing is about making money,” Ervin wrote. “When we divest in a company, we forfeit our influence.”
“Treasurer Michael Frerichs has a duty to consider all ideas. However, divestment typically does not change a company’s mission, business plan, and goals. Nor does morality, for that matter. Influence changes a company’s direction, and the price of influence is stock ownership.”
In his campaign for governor, Kennedy has called for the state to merge the offices of Comptroller and Treasurer in a move to save taxpayers money. Frerichs supports that idea, but Comptroller Susana Mendoza does not.