As the Russian invasion of Ukraine approaches the four-week mark, Florida Democrats again are highlighting the urgency of divestment from Russia.
The latest blast came from Florida Democratic Party chair Manny Diaz, who on Tuesday renewed previously voiced criticisms from Democrats that Gov. Ron DeSantis needs to take a stronger anti-Russia position and push for divestment from the Russian economy.
“Right now, Florida has more than $300 million in public money invested in Russian companies, including energy conglomerates, oil producers, and banks with direct ties to high-ranking Russian oligarchs and government officials who are involved in Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine,” Diaz asserted, before framing a lack of action as a betrayal of the Ukrainian resistance itself.
“As the war rages on, Ron DeSantis and Republicans have made empty statements of solidarity with Ukraine, while choosing to betray the Ukrainian people by refusing to divest from Russian assets,” Diaz claimed.
“Not only is the Governor’s inaction putting our state pension funds at risk and potentially leaving working Floridians out to dry, but he is also supporting a corrupt Russian government that is needlessly killing innocent people. It is time for DeSantis and Florida Republicans to stop dodging questions, put their money where their mouth is, and actually take a stand against Vladimir Putin and the atrocities we are seeing in Ukraine.”
If these arguments seem familiar, it’s because candidates have made them before.
In late February, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried sent a letter to her Cabinet colleagues who comprise the State Board of Administration, Gov. DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and CFO Jimmy Patronis.
“As trustees of the Florida State Board of Administration, I am writing today to urge you to divest Florida from Russian-backed entities in response to the invasion of Ukraine. We must unite as a state, nation, and global community to condemn these actions of war from Vladimir Putin and Russia, and we must send a strong message that we will not allow aggressions against democracy anywhere. Our state should immediately begin to cancel state contracts with Russian businesses and divest from Russian firms and other entities that have business ties to the country.”
Her letter continued, stating, “Florida is a well-known hub for Russian investments, and we should do everything in our power to prevent our state’s financial activity from, directly or indirectly, aiding Russia as it wages unprovoked war against Ukraine. We must review our state purchases and our investments, including investments with any company or institution that is on a list of Russian-headquartered entities and make changes as necessary. Several other states, including Colorado and New York, have severed economic ties with Russia in recent days.”
Fried’s call for divestment was a non-starter.
“Commissioner Fried claims ‘Florida is a well-known hub for Russian investments’ but does not quantify that or provide specific examples of what she means by ‘Russian investments.’ To the extent Russian citizens purchase South Florida real estate, for example, that has nothing to do with the state of Florida investing in or divesting from ‘a list of Russian-headquartered entities,’ but Fried links these two assertions as though there is a logical connection between them,” asserted Christina Pushaw, press secretary for DeSantis.
Pushaw also questioned the “list of Russian-headquartered entities” to which Fried referred. “Is she referring to lists of sanctioned foreign entities and individuals created by the relevant federal institutions, such as the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC)?”
The State Board of Administration communications director Dennis MacKee also offered a statement that filled in some detail as to the state’s exposure to Russia: “Of our $195 billion in assets, we currently hold approximately $300 million in Russian-domiciled investments. As a matter of policy, we don’t make forward-looking statements regarding investment decisions of any kind. However, we do comply with applicable laws and any sanctions required by the U.S. government. We are in discussions with our managers and in the process of evaluating the ever-evolving regulatory and economic landscape regarding any holdings in Russia and will adjust our holdings accordingly.”
Yet these explanations haven’t flown with Democratic candidates. Charlie Crist likewise is still calling for divestment: “Under the weakest Governor on Russia, $300 million dollars of Florida taxpayer money is invested in Russia. I am calling on Gov. DeSantis to call an emergency Cabinet session immediately to divest our state from Russia in support of our allies in Ukraine.”