By Josh Manning
Josh Manning is a combat veteran and serves on the leadership team of Common Defense, a group of progressive veterans who want to affect political change. You can follow him on Twitter @joshuamanning23
I understand people can end up investing in awful things when they go through a broker or a mutual fund. But sometimes people intentionally invest given the performance of a certain stock and do not seem to care about the reasons why it performs so well. This is how Greg Gianforte explained his investment in an index fund that has holdings in numerous Russian companies.
For a businessman or a day trader it makes sense to look purely at the growth of a fund. But Gianforte is not purely a businessman anymore. He ran for governor and now is running for Congress. So he should know what is in his portfolio because that is how people are going to understand then judge his values.
Not all Russian business has ill intentions and there is not evil behind every corner. However, most of the businesses Gianforte has chosen to stick with are involved with Russian President Vladimir’s Putin’s creeping annexation of nearby countries, brutal internal repression, and tied to many of the people named and highly suspected in the election interference of 2016. Keep in mind the date of this disclosure to the clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives: March 17, 2017. Gianforte is signaling he continues to invest in these companies and said as much on debate stage this past weekend. It is important to remember Gianforte only answered that he invested in these stocks based on their performance when pressed by Quist and not anyone managing the debate.
For some reason national security takes a pass during Congressional races in this state. Yet Montana has the highest per capita concentration of veterans in America and many of our citizens and our National Guard troops have deployed to combat zones… recently. If we do not have the right representation in Congress, they could deploy numerous more times. Montana’s farmers and ranchers are dependent on foreign access. So if, say, Russian interests are to overrun Europe and make it dependent on its resources then that is a bad thing for Montanans. But by all means, let us concentrate on who has a hunting license.
Much has initially been made of the companies Gianforte funds for violating US sanctions. Russia faced sanctions for illegitimate military operations in Ukraine that led to it claiming Crimea as a Russian territory. The companies designated are oil and gas giants like Gazprom, Rosneft, Surgutneftegas, and Transneft along with major state-sponsored banks like Sberbank (Gianforte’s largest holding).
Beyond breaking international norms, Russia’s moves toward Ukraine bring a much larger concern. Ukraine, a former Soviet republic with a long memory of repression, serves as the conduit for natural gas into Europe. In the early 2000s this caused yearly problems because Ukraine refused to pay the hefty sums charged by companies like Gazprom, which the gas provider used to drain the Ukrainian budget. Russia in turn accused the Ukrainians of turning off pipelines and keeping gas for itself. Keep in mind this is during the height of harsh eastern European winters. Putin also eyed the problematic Ukraine because it also dared to make moves toward NATO for protection and to join the larger European-Atlantic community.
However, if Putin and his allies in the oil and gas industry can turn Ukraine toward Russian interests then they control the flows of natural gas into Europe. If upset with how Germany, France, or even NATO acts, then Russia can simply turn off the gas or charge a premium for its service. Gaining greater access into Ukraine also puts Russian intelligence and political forces on Europe’s doorstep. This would allow for gains into eastern and southeastern Europe. Russia also has interest in funding “alt-right” movements in the U.K., Germany, and France as they undercut the vote and promote neo-Nazi policies. Putin and his cronies finance all of this through their lucrative oil and gas interests and money laundering through state-owned or foreign banks. The very same companies and people in Gianforte’s portfolio mean to undercut U.S. interests in our main ally: Europe.
Internally, the executives and families of these connected businesses form an important wing of the Russian government. Putin can trust them to stay in line, kickback their profits to those in the government, and help him expand the enterprise. These oligarchs count their money as Putin’s intelligence and police services kill opposition figures, viciously curb protests, and imprison anyone who dares question the system. Most of Russia’s top billionaires who support this head the companies in Gianforte’s portfolio. Gianforte, a billionaire himself, must have some sort of kindred connection to them.
Let us take Gianforte at his word during the Congressional debate—he is okay with these investments because they are making him money. Notice that he offered no apology or any explanation that maybe some of the companies are in the wrong. He, like his mentor Donald Trump, doubled down on his funding of oppression and authoritarianism. He wants to take those values to Congress and represent Montana. Think about that.