Washing Sudanese Blood Off Our Money

The plan, to require divesting Colorado pension funds from companies that are assisting genocide in Darfur, came on the same day that the Colorado Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs committee was considering the resolution calling on George W. Bush to stop the escalation of the war in Iraq.

The Sudan divestment bill – unlike the controversial anti-war resolution – was a slam-dunk.

“It’s time for us to wash the blood off our hands and off our money,” said Sen. Peter Groff, a Democrat from Denver and co-sponsor of the bill.

So far more than six states have passed similar laws, to divest in firms that are doing business with companies that are promoting the genocide, said Scott Wisor, a national field organizer with the Sudan Divestment Task Force. Another 20 are currently considering similar divestment plans. Since 2003, an estimated 400,000 people have been killed in the Darfur region of Sudan. Another 2.5 million people have been displaced from their homes.

The divestment targets roughly two dozen companies with business relationships with the Sudanese government that have failed to address the ongoing genocide or been responsive to attempts by shareholders for action. Wisor said the companies overwhelmingly represent the oil industry. Companies that are providing humanitarian aid are not targeted.

“We have an obligation, a moral obligation,” Groff urged his colleagues, asking them to support the House Bill 1184, which is co-sponsored by Speaker Andrew Romanoff.

One man from the audience, George Walker, took the microphone to praise Groff for carrying the bill. Twenty years ago, Walker said, he worked closely with Groff’s father, former state Sen. Regis Groff, on a plan to divest University of Colorado funds from South Africa during apartheid. Like father, like son, Walker said.

To which Sen. Chris Romer jumped in with additional praise for his colleague. “Sometimes those apples don’t fall far from the tree,” Romer said.

At the end of the hearing, all five senators on the committee approved the divestment plan – including Romer and Groff, and Sens. Dave Schultheis, Ron May and Sue Windels. The room erupted in spontaneous applause – from the scores of supporters and opponents there to hash over the anti-war resolution that was scheduled next.

Returning to his seat leading the committee, Groff sternly advised the crowd that such vocal crowd demonstrations would not be tolerated . . . “unless,” he said to much laughter, “it’s my bill.”

This week, the full Senate adopted the Sudanese divestment plan. As the Rocky Mountain News reported, two lawmakers opposed the plan, including Sens. Shawn Mitchell and Greg Brophy, who were quoted saying that Coloradans should not have to take a “social litmus test” when investing in pension funds.

The full Senate is expected to adopt the measure on final reading on Monday. The House of Representatives unanimously (with Rep. Dan Gibbs excused) approved the Sudan divestment bill in mid-February.

Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential, and a columnist and contributing editor at the Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at cdegette@coloradoconfidential.com.