Afternoon Jolt

Wednesday Jolt: City Retirement Fund to Take Up Divestment Motion Tomorrow

Licata to push fossil fuel divestment.

By Josh Feit January 28, 2015

Afternoon Jolt

1. Seattle City Council member Nick Licata is not happy.

For the second time in two months the Seattle City Employees’ Retirement System (SCERS) has, in his estimation, failed to adequately follow a directive to research and lay out a plan to divest the city from fossil fuel stocks, the "Carbon Underground 200" as the top oil and gas stocks are called.

Licata is the chair of SCERS.

In November, SCERS' consultant NECP came back with a report that basically criticized the idea. At that point, Licata got the board to pass a resolution asking the consultant to try again

At tomorrow's meeting, NECP is evidently reporting back with another dismissive memo that fails to consider fossil fuel stocks in an updated consumer climate where the stocks aren't as valuable as they are today. (And by the way, the consultant did note in its report that fossil free indexes—indexes that screen out the CU200—actually performed 30 points better than the S&P 500 over the last 10 years.)

And so Licata has requested that the following amendment be added to the agenda.

“The Investment Committee recommends to SCERS the preference that, at natural points of transition, the active investment managers representing SCERS move out of fossil fuel investments with consideration of fiduciary responsibilities and that SCERS  receive a review this practice and report any available information on the current state of carbon investments by September 1, 2015.”

Licata's reference to "natural points of transition" is a nod to the conultant's concern about making a reckless break, giving the fund the flexibility to ease out of fossil fuel investments.

2. Seattle Bike Blog has the scoop on some big news at Cascade Bike Club.

The bike advocacy organization may drop its 501(c)(4) status, which would prevent it from endorsing candidates and working on candidate campaigns, thereby diluting the group's vital status as a political force at a time when bikes have emerged as a defining political issue.

The group would keep its 501(c)(3) status which allows it to do some political work, such as working on initiatives. However, 501(c)(3)s do not have the same lobbying leeway as 501(c)(4)s. 501(c)(4)s can spend 49 percent of their budgeted time lobbying officials at the legislature and city hall while 501(c)(3)s can only spend 20 percent of their time lobbying. 

There have been a lot of staff changes at CBC over the last several years, in part due to internal organizational differences about political advocacy.

We did a "PubliCola One Question" with CBC about the split between political advocacy and bike enthusiasm when current CBC executive director Elizabeth Kiker first took over the reins (handle bars?) at the organization back in the fall of 2013 about this very issue.

Seattle Bike Blog has the full story.

We'll add this: In similar, but better news, another alternative transit non-profit, Transportation Choices Coalition, is considering making the opposite move by adding a 501(c)(4) to its arsenal of advocacy work. 

TCC policy director Andrew Austin tells me: "Transportation Choices has considered starting a political arm for quite some time. Building political support for transit and more transportation options, especially in the legislature, is no easy task, which is why we continue to seriously evaluate launching a 501c4 and PAC to complement our existing organizational strengths." 

PACs, political action committees, can contribute directly to campaigns. Cascade Bike Club currently has a PAC. But you have to have 501(c)(4) status to have a PAC.

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