ND lawmakers turn their sights to the state’s investments

Published: Feb. 2, 2023 at 8:36 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 2, 2023 at 10:50 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Some lawmakers are concerned with some of the places North Dakota has invested its money.

Who is the U.S.’s biggest adversary? Odds are good if you ask that question to people around North Dakota, many would said it’s either China or Russia.

Yet, the state holds investments in Chinese and Russian companies. And that’s causing some heartburn at the State Capitol.

Representative Bernie Satrom, R-Jamestown, has a message for those in charge of the state’s investments.

“If we invest our principle and we don’t have principles, we are lost and we are hollow,” said Satrom.

That’s why he introduced HB 1278, which would open the state’s investment contracts up for interested bidders every five years. But those involved with the implementation of the state investment board program said that’s not as easy as it sounds.

“That would make it very difficult, especially in private markets, for us, because those commitments are well over five years long. They’re five, ten years long. The capital is locked up. When you’re part of a limited partnership, you have to guarantee that participation for many years to be able to achieve that return,” said Jan Murtha, executive director of the Retirement Investment Office.

Satrom’s concern is twofold: both what the state is investing in, and who is doing the investing.

“Somehow we don’t have anybody in North Dakota that’s eligible or smart enough to be handling any of the funds we have that we’re investing. I’m offended. I know smart bankers, I know smart trust people, I know smart financial people,” said Satrom.

But those on the State Investment Board said they’ve tried that.

“To date, the responses we’ve been getting back are, we can’t handle this at this time, but please keep us posted for next time. And so, we’ve started that communication and started that conversation, to try to give them opportunities and give them chances to bid on those,” said State Treasurer Thomas Beadle, a Republican.

Still, Satrom said the state’s stakes in China and Russia, no matter how small, should be divested.

“When I first found out about this, I was embarrassed and we should be embarrassed. But if we continue, we should be ashamed,” said Satrom.

The committee didn’t act on the bill on Thursday.

Last March, the State Investment Board voted unanimously to divest from Russian entities after Russia invaded Ukraine.