Montana reviewing state assets that may benefit Russia, Putin

Gianforte urged all state agency directors to investigate any Russian friendly assets they may hold

By: - March 2, 2022 5:24 pm

Gov. Greg Gianforte speaks at the Montana capitol in Helena on Tuesday, January 4

Montana is in the process of reviewing “assets and operations” in the state that may benefit Russian leaders, including Vladimir Putin, as the country continues its hostile takeover over Ukraine, but few details about what those assets may be have been disclosed, and Gov. Greg Gianforte continues to hold a small number of Russian index shares.

In a memo, Gianforte urged all state agency directors to investigate any Russian friendly assets they may hold, according to a Wednesday press release from the Governor’s Office.

“While I have spoken with many of you informally, I write today to formally request you conduct a swift, thorough review of assets and operations that may benefit the Russian government, its supporters, and any institutions aiding Russia in its war against Ukraine,” Gianforte said in the release.

But no specific examples have been provided by the Governor’s Office.

Dan Villa, executive director of The Montana Board of Investments, said his office has been in communication with the Governor’s Office working to identify assets.

And recently, he said the board identified $15 million in Russian-linked assets that it is in the process of divesting. The board’s total portfolio is worth $25 billion, Villa said.

“We have been monitoring developments on the economic front for several weeks now and after discussions with the board, we feel it prudent to begin exiting our assets linked to Russia,” Villa said. 

Currently, the board is examining the assets and identifying appropriate exit strategies that minimize losses and maximize gains for its beneficiaries. The majority of the state’s Russian-linked assets are passive and managed by BlackRock Inc, a New York Financial Planning and Investment Management firm.

“It will take time but it is ultimately where we will end up … many of these assets have lost permanent value,” he said.

Gianforte first announced an informal review via Twitter on Monday but did not mention his personal assets.

In 2017, The Guardian reported that Gianforte owned $150,000 worth of shares in VanEck Vectors Russia ETF and $92,400 worth of shares in Ishares Msci Russia ETF fund. Both are pooled funds where the money is spread out across multiple companies to minimize risk.

In the last five days, both funds have plummeted more than 50% in value.

In an email to the Daily Montanan on Tuesday, Gianforte spokeswoman, Brooke Stroyke downplayed the investments, citing a 2017 Billings Gazette article in which Ed Ulledalen, of Raymond James financial services, said: “It’s pointless to bring it up  … if it’s a discretionary managed account, he would not be able to make changes.”

On Tuesday, Stroyke reaffirmed the Governor has no control over the investments.

“The governor’s blind investment agreement, which has been in place since he was elected to Congress in 2017, takes management away from the governor and puts an investment manager in charge of the governor’s investments,” she said. “As such, the governor has no control over trades made on his account, but instead, an investment manager conducts all trades without the governor’s advice, direction, or consent.”

Gianforte has been vocal on social media about the situation in Ukraine.

“Montana stands with the people of Ukraine as they demonstrate unparalleled bravery and courage in the face of an egregious act of war,” he tweeted on Feb. 26.

Stroyke did not say if Gianforte will follow in the footsteps of other governors with state-owned liquor stores who have halted the sale of Russian vodkas. So far, Utah, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania have participated in the primarily symbolic gesture.

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Keith Schubert
Keith Schubert

Keith Schubert was born and raised in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2019. He has worked at the St.Paul Pioneer Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and most recently, the Asbury Park Press, covering everything from local craft fairs to crime and courts to municipal government to the Minnesota state legislature. In his free time, he enjoys cheering on Wisconsin sports teams and exploring small businesses. Keith is no longer a reporter with the Daily Montanan.