Opinion

The Creeping Politics Of Investing

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Derek Hunter Contributor

You can’t escape politics these days. You used to be able to. Actors used to just act; now they preach and pander. Athletes used to just try to win games; now they demand attention for their cause. Musicians used to just play their songs; now they act as though groupies have imbued them with truth. And investment funds used to simply try to make money for their investors; now they seek to force change.

When it comes to politics, nothing is safe.

It’s not just Trump vs. Clinton, Republican vs. Democrat. It could be your financial security vs. your wallet as politics continues to creep into areas it has no business and could be doing your retirement harm.

One of the biggest fallacies permeating the nation’s conscience is the belief that big business and the wealthy are conservative Republicans. Not true – not by a long shot.

Businesses oppose regulations that hurt their bottom lines but lobby for regulations that either would harm competitors or make it difficult, if not impossible, for new competitors to enter their industry.

The paperwork, licenses and fees to start a new business in many industries didn’t come about by accident. It’s easy for a multi-million-dollar corporation to comply with new rules and regulations. It’s not so easy for start-ups.

Many corporations are more than happy to weaponize government bureaucrats for their advantage.

One such example is William Ackman, who appears to have made it his mission in life to destroy Herbalife, a nutritional supplement company. The politically connected Ackman has donated a lot money to politicians on both sides of the aisle and hired lobbyists to make his mission succeed.

Why would a billionaire care about what amounts to a vitamin company? Because he’s bet against their stock – so if it drops, he makes another fortune. He’s pledged to donate any profit he makes to charity, saying this crusade is about opposing Ponzi schemes, which he claims Herbalife is.

Unfortunately for Ackman and whatever charity he may or may not have in mind to receive his potential windfall, the stock has risen. The New York Times reports, “Ackman has lost billions of dollars on his bet.”

Furthermore, according to The Times, Ackman “has spent tens of millions of dollars on research and legal fees in a campaign against the company. He has walked the halls of Congress, pressing lawmakers to take action, and personally urged regulators to shut the company down.”

Ackman is rich, has donated to both parties, and has attempted to use government to impose his will. There are other hedge fund managers who use their means to influence government, possibly at the expense of their fiduciary duty. It’s become an industry. Although Ackman’s motives are his own, there is an industry of protest that seeks to decrease your bottom line to advance their agenda.

This movement is where you’d traditionally expect it: on the political left.

Progressive leftists have, for years, sought to harm those they view as enemies of their desired policy agendas. For decades, liberals have rarely missed a chance to attack Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer and the biggest taxpayer in the history of taxes.

Walmart and similar progressive crusades aside, California passed a law ordering its pension system to divest from coal companies. Not because coal is a failing industry or because coal is being replaced by a newer technology ready to swoop in and take its market share, but because environmentalists hate it.

Left-wing activists hate coal so much they are constantly using the electricity it produces to charge their computers and smartphones to tell the world how much they hate it. Someday we may have energy produced by hopes, dreams and unicorn tears, but right now we get most of it from coal. Solar and wind are great ideas, but sometimes there are clouds and sometimes the wind doesn’t blow. To think pulling pension funds from a crucial industry where demand only increases makes good sense is financial self-mutilation.

Yet that’s where we are in 2016. Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law, and now the state is out.

The Los Angeles Times reports the “law will affect $58 million held by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and $6.7 million in the California State Teachers Retirement System.” It’s only a small portion of the pension system’s funds but, as the Times reports, “The funds are responsible for providing benefits to more than 2.5 million current and retired employees.”

Good thing Solyndra already went out of business or else these funds might’ve ended up being “invested” there.

Individuals always have been free to invest their money in whatever they want, but most Americans who have retirement accounts don’t have time to follow them beyond the reports that come in the mail. As politics creeps ever further into areas where it traditionally, though not exclusively, has been kept at bay, our retirement future will be put at risk in the name of “progress.”

It might settle scores or make drum circles cheer, but it won’t help you pay your bills.