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A Florida Senator Is Haranguing CalPERS Over China Investments. He Should Check Out His Own State’s Fund.

Why are Republican Congressmen singling out CalPERS?

Ben Meng’s resignation as chief investment officer hasn’t stopped out-of-state Congressmen from questioning the California Public Employees’ Retirement System’s ties to China. For at least one of these Congressmen, though, their own state pension fund is likewise heavily invested in Chinese companies.

Back in February, Indiana Rep. Jim Banks began a series of attacks against CalPERS on Twitter, critiquing its investments in Chinese companies as well as Meng’s role in the retirement system.  

Banks’ tweets on the subject continued through last month following Meng’s August 5 resignation. He said that “new leadership” would be “an opportunity for CalPERS to divest from the PLA,” or China’s People’s Liberation Army, which represents China’s communist party.

More recently, on August 19, Sen. Rick Scott from Florida sent a letter to CalPERS chief executive officer Marcie Frost urging the retirement system to “to review its policies and discontinue coordination with U.S.-listed Chinese-based companies.”  

Yet Florida’s State Board of Administration, which invests more than $200 billion on behalf of the state’s retirement systems and other funds, has invested in several Chinese companies, including ones Banks has gone after on Twitter: Hikvision and China Construction Bank. 

Unlike Florida SBA, Banks’ local pension fund — the Indiana Public Retirement System — provides less transparency about its investments. The retirement system lists only its top ten equity holdings in its annual report — none of which are Chinese — and did not return an email seeking further comment. 

As for Sen. Scott, his critiques focus on U.S.-listed Chinese-based companies or companies held through American depository receipts. American depository receipts, or ADRs, are used by U.S. investors to access companies they otherwise might not be able to.  

For example, Alibaba, which completed the largest initial public offering stateside in 2014, trades on the New York Stock Exchange as an ADR.  

Florida SBA invests in Alibaba equity and its debt through Yankee bonds, the public fund’s second-quarter holdings report shows. And Alibaba is just one of many Chinese companies in Florida’s portfolio. The SBA has a list of scrutinized companies, which prohibits it from investing in companies with business relationships to Sudan and Darfur. Although companies domiciled in China are on that list, SBA has not divested in those companies because they are Chinese. Instead, it is because of those companies’ business relationships, the document shows.

U.S. public pension funds are some of the world’s largest pools of capital. Because of their size and best practices around diversification, they typically invest in global markets, including the third-largest economy: China. 

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In Scott’s letter to CalPERS, he expressed concern that investing in Chinese-based companies can “endanger the retirement plans of hard-working Americans by steering their retirement savings to Communist China.” He added that CalPERS’ choice to continue investing with these companies “puts profits above the security of Americans and is dangerous and short-sighted.” 

According to a spokesperson for Sen. Scott, he sent a letter to “U.S. stock exchanges, major pension plans, and underwriters” in May, asking them to review their investment policies. It’s unclear which state pension funds he sent this letter to. 

“He continues to urge investors, including the Florida State Board of Administration, to cut ties with Chinese-based companies, which puts many Americans’ retirement funds at risk,” the spokesperson said via email Wednesday. 

A spokesperson for Florida SBA did not immediately respond to a request for comment and  confirmation that Scott had reached out to about its investments. A representative from Banks’ public relations team did not return an email Wednesday.  

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