We all deserve to give in to a vice once in a while. The county of Marin is no exception.
Dubbed the healthiest county in California, Marin has decided to invest in tobacco for the sake of its finances.
The county’s 1.5 billion pension fund has put $7.5 million on the line for Imperial Tobacco Group, a British company known as the world’s fourth largest tobacco company. It has come across favorable times during the past decade, quadrupling its business and producing more than 320 million cigarettes a year.
The company’s growing prowess sparked the interest of the Marin County Employees Retirement Association. However, all of the association’s high-profit investing, which includes stakes in alcohol and nuclear weaponry, clashes with the Civic Center’s healthy communities initiative that aims to keep the county’s fit reputation intact.
Pension chief Jeff Wickman told the IJ that its responsibility is to generate healthy returns, not a healthy environment:
“We don’t have a mandate for socially-responsible investing.”
But the tobacco firm is not the only company in Marin’s pension portfolio that people find distasteful. Another is Diageo, the world’s largest producer of spirits based in London. Interestingly, they produce Smirnoff Ice, an “alcopop” drink that Marin County is trying to ban because of its allure to teenagers.
Maya Gladstern, a county employee who heads the pension board said that while its investments may be controversial, investments are made from a fiscal standpoint and her distaste for certain products have no bearing on the choices of the board:
“My fiduciary duty is to the system, the fund. It would cost money for us to follow some sort of mandate.”
Supervisor Susan Adams, a maternity nurse who is a proponent of the healthy communities effort, said pension trustees should make a conscious effort to invest in opportunities with social goals:
“I am certain there are plenty of good investment options available which would not contribute to the morbidity and mortality of our communities.”
Despite the conversation brewing about “sinful” investments, much of the money in the pension fund is divided into other companies, predominantly Apple and Microsoft:
• Apple: $21,582,935
• Microsoft: $14,195,382
• Wells Fargo: $10,992,569
• General Electric: $8,886,901
• Unilever: $8,764,351
• Nestle: $8,690,892
• Coca-Cola Co.: $8,076,197
• Merck: $7,551,760
• Imperial Tobacco Group: $7,466,674
• Comcast: $7,378,840