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PERSI responds to letter encouraging State to divest from Big Tech stocks

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Posted at 5:10 PM, Jan 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-26 16:31:12-05

BOISE, Idaho — UPDATE (1/26 2:23 P.M.): PERSI's Board issued a statement in response to the letter, stating, "PERSI investments are diversified to minimize the risk of loss and to maximize the rate of return.

"Per Idaho Statute 59-1301(2), the Fund's investments are solely in the interest of the members and their beneficiaries and for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to the members and their beneficiaries and defraying reasonable expenses of administration in accordance with the provisions of the Idaho Code governing the system.

"The Retirement Board maintains fiduciary responsibility for PERSI's investment policy, asset allocation, and the selection of individual investment managers

"PERSI's simple, transparent, focused, and patient approach following conventional investment principles continues to produce strong results."

The statement also linked to PERSI's investment policy.

A group of 22 Idaho lawmakers and Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin have signed on to a letter asking the state's pension system to divest its holdings in Big Tech companies. Republican Rep. Priscilla Giddings (R-White Bird) spearheaded the effort.

"As you are likely aware," reads the letter, "large tech and social platform-based companies including Twitter, Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook have censored free speech and the free exchange of ideas by many groups and citizens."

The letter argues the companies don't value free speech, after events like Amazon refusing to allow its servers to host conservative social media website Parler over concerns with violent rhetoric.

PERSI's monthly investment reportlists Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook as some of the top companies in which the fund is invested. The sum of the numbers listed on the report (along with an estimate of $21.881 million invested in Twitter, as provided to Giddings by PERSI officials in an email obtained by Idaho News 6) is more than $600 million, or just under 3 percent of the overall fund.

"A lot of people are currently changing the way they’ve invested their own stocks," said Giddings. "There are lots of other companies to invest in. We shouldn’t pigeon-hole ourselves."

PERSI's Board is meeting this week, but an employee with the retirement fund tells Idaho News 6 they do not expect the divestiture to be added to the agendas. Giddings says she expected this and just hopes to raise the concerns and allow PERSI to find other companies in which to invest, although she notes there is an option for legislating the issue, which she says she'd prefer to avoid while acknowledging other lawmakers may want to proceed down that route.