By Andy Rowell, crossposted with permission from Oil Change International
Last week a newly formed organization, The Institute for Pension Fund Integrity (IPFI), published its first “white paper” on the topical issue of “getting politics out of pensions”.
Reviewing the report, the headline on the Institutional Investor website summed up the main finding: “New Pensions Group Says Forget About Climate Change”.
“Pension funds should focus solely on getting the best investment returns and ignore issues such as climate change and other political issues”, continued the Institutional Investor.
Which really is a polite way of saying “forget about your and your kid’s future, make as much money as possible now.”
So what does the report actually say? The IPFI report warns that “politically driven divestment is a growing movement across the country”. It continues: “Much of the push is for public pensions to divest from industries with negative externalities, including being damaging to the environment; being unhealthy; and otherwise being perceived as a social ‘bad’. While this is not a novel concept, current movements focus on groups pushing for divestment from fossil fuel companies given their perceived negative impact on the climate and environment.”
“Other examples” it adds, “include divesting from tobacco companies, soda companies, gun manufacturers, and the military and nuclear industrial complex.” The report’s final conclusion is clear: “get politics out of public pension management.”
So who is behind the report warning against the burgeoning fossil fuel disinvestment movement?
The author of the report and founder of the IPFI is Christopher Burnham, a former Treasurer of the State of Connecticut, and former United Nations Undersecretary. He is also a former “energy investment banker” and chairman of an advisory / PR company, Cambridge Global Advisors. He has also, most recently, served as a member of Donald Trump’s Presidential Transition Team at the Department of State.
Burnham has previously written for Cambridge Global Advisors on the subject of pensions saying that “a new era of activists, without any regard to fiduciary responsibility, is injecting politics into pension systems, yet again, by trying to make states, counties and municipalities across the country divest of shares in energy companies. Why would we seek to undermine the integrity of a secure retirement for our teachers and government employees?”
But let’s dig a little deeper. The IPFA’s address is exactly the same as the East Port Analystics, on which board Burnham sits. However, its phone number is the same as Cambridge Global Advisors, although Cambridge does not give out its full address on its website, so it's probably all the same office.
Maybe a greater clue is who is behind the Institute’s website. The IPFI website was set up last month by Burnham himself on March 22. Two days later records show that Burnham was showing as the registrant name. However by April 9, the contact for the website had been changed to Fred Wollenberg from the Bergman Group, which is an advertising company.
According to his biog on Bergman’s website, it says Wollenberg “joined the Bergman Group, where he has developed speciality marketing for ExxonMobil, Sandler Training, CapTech, American Express, Martha Jefferson Hospital, DCI Group, Beaumont Hospitals of Detroit, Wells Fargo, VCU Health System, the National Audubon Society, American Enterprise Institute, the George W. Bush Foundation and Capital One.”
Now this maybe a total coincidence, but Wollenberg just happens to have developed “speciality marketing” for Exxon as well as the DCI Group, the PR firm linked to the Republican Party, which has a long history of being involved in anti-climate change work and also which has been accused of being behind another anti-fossil fuel disinvestment campaign.
As Bloomberg reported last year, there is another anti-divestment campaign which is called “Protect Our Pensions isn’t what it appears to be … much of the writing is actually done by public affairs firms operating in the shadows”.
It continued: “But there are clues pointing to the involvement of DCI Group LLC, a Washington public affairs firm known for its work with the energy industry and for building grass-roots coalitions that sometimes obscure their funders.”
Bloomberg noted that the group’s website, “www.helpprotectourpensions.org, is linked to the same internet protocol address as DCI’s corporate website, according to reverse IP lookup tools. Shared IP addresses can sometimes be a coincidence, but of the 11 other sites connected to that address, at least eight are for coalitions or projects related to DCI clients.”
DCI neither confirmed or denied to Bloomberg that they worked on the Protect our Pensions campaign, and they will probably say the same here about another uncannily similar initiative.