Portland City Council Votes to Cease Investments in Corporate Bonds

Portland’s foray into Socially Responsible Investing ended on April 5th with the City Council deciding it was too much time and trouble, at least that’s the impression this observer came away with.

When the City Treasurer’s proposed Investment Policy came before Portland City Council we were there, many of us wearing orange, with our orange divestment ‘wavies.’ Alongside us was the Occupy Free Portland Coalition, opposing the Treasurer’s proposal to dissolve the Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) Committee and to instead rely solely on a Wall St. firm’s inadequate rating system. We were also advocating for adding Wells Fargo and Caterpillar to the do-not-buy list (The Treasurer’s proposed policy named the Carbon Tracker 200, as well as Walmart, as securities that would not be purchased so we didn’t need to advocate this time for fossil fuel divestment).

Commissioner Chloe Eudaly proposed reinstating the do-not-buy list and adding Caterpillar, Nestle and Bank of New York Mellon to it. She said she was barred by confidentiality issues from explaining why she didn’t also ask for Wells Fargo–she did announce that her office is preparing a resolution authorizing a public bank feasibility study.

Commissioner Dan Saltzman, saying the commission is taking too much of their time away from important work to talk about this issue, presented an amendment that the City eliminate investments in corporate securities. This was voted on first and passed 3-2 with Mayor Ted Wheeler voting no saying he was concerned about the money that will be lost and Commissioner Amanda Fritz wanting to be able to call out the offending companies. The resolution accepting the amended policy was unanimous. Despite many of the 40 testifying citizens calls for continuing the SRI committee, no Council member even mentioned the issue in their discussion.

The Occupy Free Portland Coalition seems to see this as a limited victory, i.e. they would have liked to see the companies identified by the SRI committee on a do-not-buy list but this outcome is preferable to the Treasurer’s original proposal (see above).

But what about fossil fuel divestment? The 350PDX Divestment Team started working with the City Council in the summer of 2013 to divest from the Carbon 200 companies and finally, in the fall of 2015, we were successful. Now that designation has disappeared. Yes, the City won’t buy any more Exxon bonds but neither will they be actively showing they want to ‘Keep it in the Ground’ with their bond purchases.

Read A Short History of Fossil Fuel Divestment and the City of Portland (and how it became a Socially Responsible Investment issue).

The Secret Naughty List, Mercury article with details on the rating company, MCSI,  published before the vote.

Critique of Proposed Investment Policy
written before the vote by a member of the SRI Committee.

More history and detail on the SRI Committee.

The Portland Tribune’s coverage.

Written by: Sandy Polishuk with Bob Grossman, Deb Lev and Taryn Oakley