Yesterday Ben Westlund announced he would run for State Treasurer as a Democrat. He had previously briefly run for Governor as an independent in 2006 against Governor Ted Kulongoski and before that was campaign manager for a Republican, Kevin Mannix, who ran and lost against Kulongoski in 2002.
Westlund eventually withdrew from the Governor’s race on August 10th, 2006, paving the way for Kulongoski’s victory by not siphoning off Democratic votes. Kulongoski now enthusiastically endorsed Westlund on the day he announced his candidacy for State Treasurer. Clearly, many wonder if a deal was struck when Westlund cut short his run for Governor.
A few questions Oregonians, both taxpayers and PERS participants, might ask include the following:
1) Will Westlund help reign in PERS aggressive moves into hedge and private equity funds and support a more balanced strategy than the current allocation of 73 percent stock and real estate and only 27 percent fixed income.
2) Will he fix the college savings plan by removing Oppenheimer (a plan set up by the current Treasurer Randall Edwards designed to please the investment industry) and add a more parent centric choice such as Vanguard as the primary vendor.
3) Will he raise serious conflict of interest issues involving the current Chairman of the Oregon Investment Council (OIC) Dick Solomon, a practicing CPA whose clients interests with OIC business, in addition to support rules requiring that lobbyists representing firms who seek funding before the council identify themselves. Sadly, Oregon PERS has become a cookie jar for the investment industry and if more difficult market conditions emerge, PERS participants may once again have to take large benefit cuts due to the overly agressive management of this $7o billion fund. Especially given the aggressive accounting practices employed by many of the private equity firms it has invested in, including KKR and the Texas Pacific Group.