New York State’s former top pension investment officer was appointed to the board of a natural gas conglomerate after the pension system bought up the company’s bonds, rejected demands to divest from fossil fuels and supported multimillion-dollar pay packages for the company’s executives after the firm’s stock price had dropped.
The CIO job — appointed by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli — is considered one of the world’s most powerful financial positions, directing $207 billion of investments for a system responsible for safeguarding the retirement savings of more than a million current and former state employees and their beneficiaries. Fuller will be granted $275,000 worth of salary and company stock every year for the part-time position serving on Williams’ board.
The move comes during an increasingly bitter policy debate between the comptroller’s office and environmental groups over whether the pension fund should divest itself from fossil fuel companies that contribute to climate change. In correspondence with DiNapoli over the last two months, major environmental groups have asked whether Fuller’s new position is a reward for her and DiNapoli’s ongoing opposition to selling off the fund’s fossil fuel holdings.
“Ms. Fuller’s appointment calls into question the integrity of the management of the New York State Common Retirement Funds by New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli,” wrote 30 groups to state ethics officials. “It is outrageous to us that a person can one day be CIO of the New York state pension funds and the next day take a well-compensated appointment as a board member of the corporation into which she oversaw — or even directed — large investments while helping to shield the company from an adverse divestment decision by the funds.”
The decision to launch an investigation will be up to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which is largely comprised of commissioners appointed by a governor who himself has ties to Williams. WNYC previously reported that a Cuomo-led political group raked in $100,000 from Williams earlier this year, and Cuomo’s own re-election campaign this year is run by a registered lobbyist for Williams who is on leave from her firm. At the same time, Williams is asking the Cuomo administration to approve a controversial pipeline that environmentalists say threatens the state’s waterways.
What is shocking about corruption in the United States is not the law-breaking, it is what is technically legal.