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Maryland’s Pension Fund Wages War

The $52 billion state retirement system could cut ties with Alabama firms over restrictive new abortion laws.

Maryland’s State Retirement and Pension System board voted to review investments in Alabama-based asset managers and companies following the passage of a law effectively banning abortion in the state.  

Maryland comptroller Peter Franchot brought forth the measure to begin a “full divestment” from the state of Alabama, a spokesperson for the retirement system said Tuesday.  

This swift reaction came one week after Alabama’s governor, Kay Ivey, signed into law the “Alabama Human Life Protection Act”  which classifies abortion and attempted abortion as a felony offense, except to prevent a serious health risk to the mother, the law shows. Other states including Georgia, Louisiana, and Missouri have passed similarly restrictive laws. 

“I obviously have no direct control over the behavior of Alabama lawmakers who would thrust their religious interpretations upon those they are paid to represent, and who choose to weaponize their system of laws to punish women who are already experiencing great vulnerability,” Franchot announced May 16. “However, I can work to ensure that Maryland's taxpayer dollars are not used to subsidize extremism.” He serves as the vice chairman on the retirement system’s board.  

On Tuesday, the board voted to initiate an inventory of its assets invested in or with companies, investment managers, brokers, and consultants that are headquartered in Alabama or have regional offices there. 

The move passed without little debate, according to pension fund spokesperson Mike Golden. He expected the findings to be reported at the next meeting on June 18. “The only question was how much time this is going to take,” Golden told Institutional Investor by phone. “The chief investment officer said he didn’t think it would take very long.” 

Alabama is home to major publicly-traded companies including Vulcan Materials, ProAssurance, and Infinity Property and Casualty. It unclear whether Maryland owns shares in any of these companies or works with consultants, investment firms, or brokers based there. But with a $52 billion portfolio, there are likely some ties to the state.  

Maryland has previously engaged in divestment campaigns related to Iran and Sudan, a spokesperson for Franchot said. However, this is its first initiative targeting another state, and possibly the first for any U.S. public pension fund.

In addition to a divesting, Franchot asked that no retirement system employees and trustees to travel to Alabama, including for conferences or meetings with investment partners. “It is my hope that this travel restriction would be replicated throughout Maryland state government as a whole,” he said in his May 16 statement.  

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A spokesperson for the Retirement Systems of Alabama did not return an email seeking comment on the plans.  

As for the other states that have enacted restrictive abortion laws? They could be targeted next, the comptroller’s spokesperson said. “His call to start with Alabama does not preclude him looking at other states. This is the most extreme and malicious law, which is why we started here. One step at a time; one state at a time.” 

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