Coming soon to a ballot near you: state constitutional amendments targeting the Iran nuclear deal.
The Defund Iran coalition on Tuesday announced plans to ask voters in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri and Ohio to change their state constitutions to bar any state dollars from being invested in ways that might help Iran. As many as 25 more states, officials said, could join the effort in coming weeks.
“Every dollar we stop makes a difference to the solider who gets blown up by an IED financed by Iran,” said Sarah Steelman, a former Missouri state treasurer and current chairwoman of Defund Iran. “Not one penny of the people’s money should go to any company that does business that goes to Iran—or any other sponsor of terror.”
Defund Iran is incorporated as a non-profit and is not required to disclose its funding. Although its leaders are current and former Republican elected officials, officials insist this is not a political fight.
“This is one of those issues that I think can bring together Democrats, independents and Republicans across the country to keep our people safe and secure,” said Josh Mandel, Ohio’s Treasurer and a co-chairman of the Defund Iran effort.
The exact language that voters will consider on Iran is still not finalized, but the overarching idea is that school janitors in Columbus, Ohio, should not have their state-run pension funds invested in companies that might profit from doing business in Iran.
Banning investments in funds or companies that some find objectionable is hardly a new tactic. Pressure built over two decades for Americans to withhold investments with ties to South Africa in order to protest that nation’s apartheid systemic discrimination. More recently, some groups have pressured Americans to do the same toward Israel over its treatment of Palestinians.
Thirty states already have some form of law or regulation that bans state dollars to go to Iran. The new moves would codify existing bans, but perhaps complicate some of them. States will have to decide how aggressively to write the constitutional language. Would they simply ban pensions from investing in energy companies that buy oil from Iran, or would they also ban economic development dollars from going to retailers who open outposts in Tehran? A defense contractor, for instance, could see its tax deals with a state threatened if it also sells parts to a company that does business with Iran.
“As a treasurer, I will advocate that language … not only includes pension investments, state investments, and state contracts, but also include any state economic development incentives as well,” Mandel said. “I will advocate for that, but at the end of the day it’s going to be up to the state legislature about the exact language they choose to put on the state ballot.”
The state-based campaign comes as President Obama appears poised to finalize an historic agreement with Tehran. China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States negotiated the deal, under which Iran will get relief from sanctions and regain access to international oil markets. That is expected to bring it a windfall of about $100 billion to Iran. In exchange, Iran must dispose of most of its low-enriched uranium, stop efforts to produce or acquire more nuclear fuel and consent to inspections.
“We think this is a bad deal for the American people, we think it’s a bad deal for our national security interests,” said former Colorado House Minority Leader Mark Waller.
The pact remains deeply unpopular among Republicans and meets an uncertain verdict from Democrats and independents. A Quinnipiac University national poll found 87 percent of Republicans oppose the agreement, while 25 percent of Democrats say the same. Overall, 59 percent of independent voters oppose the deal, as do 55 percent of all voters.
Those same voters, it should be noted, might be motivated to change their state constitutions in protest of Obama’s deal. And while they are at the ballot box in November 2016, they might also cast a ballot for the GOP’s presidential nominee. Such ballot initiatives have been seen as effective ways to increase a political party’s turnout; President George W. Bush coasted to re-election in 2004 in a year when conservatives in 11 states passed state bans on gay marriage.