« Home | WHAT IS MIKE BEEBE HIDING? » | The Truth About Mac Campbell & The Democrat Party ... » | Mike Beebe A "Can-I-Date" For Governor? » | More Poll Numbers... » | Mike Beebe's Leadership? » | Arkansas Poll Released » 

Tuesday, September 27, 2005 

The Truth: Traveling With Gus

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette recently reported that Gus Wingfield (AR State Treasurer) has attended conferences in countries around the world. When asked how much he paid for the trip he replied "that is personal." If Gus was on a vacation trip (as he claims) why was he listed as the treasurer of Arkansas? The treasurer of the sate of Arkansas needs to be held accountable. Let's have The Truth Gus...

Officials of Arkansas’ two largest public retirement systems, which have substantial overseas investments, have attended professional conferences in Brazil, Germany, Russia and many other countries during the past decade. The systems often have paid the conference fee, while the cost of travel has often been subsidized by various firms that are competing to manage millions of dollars in assets of the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System and the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System.
Not in any bad way, say officials for the systems, their consultants and the sponsors of the conferences.
They say it’s routine for money managers to underwrite these educational conferences.
"No one comes away from one of these meetings that isn’t better informed about where they are investing," said Paul Troup, executive vice president of Callan Associates Inc. of Atlanta, the investment consultant for the public employees’ retirement system.
"Smart trustees are better equipped trustees," he said.
But state Sen. Steve Faris, D-Central, said officials for the systems should be more forthcoming with details, such as who is actually paying for them to attend these conferences and the purpose of their trips.
Faris, vice chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Retirement and Social Security Programs, said he doesn’t understand why system officials and money managers "want to keep such a shroud of secrecy over the situation."
The officials who benefit from the conference sponsors’ covering some of their costs must report those benefits if the amounts exceed a certain levels, the legal counsel for the state Ethics Commission said.
Some officials have done so, while others haven’t.
The two retirement systems collectively have more than $2.5 billion invested overseas. About $878 million of the public employees system’s $4.643 billion assets were in foreign stock markets and some $1.61 billion of the teacher retirement system’s $8.774 billion were in foreign stocks as of June 30, according to officials for the systems.
The public employees system had $94 million invested in foreign bonds as of June 30, but the teachers’ system doesn’t have similar investments, said officials for the systems.
Most of the time, the systems paid fees of $500 to $1,000 for each official attending a meeting, according to system records.
The records show that the sponsors of the conferences often pay the officials’ airfare, hotel and some meals.
The World Pension Forum has organized most of the conferences. It’s a private Marin County, Calif.-based firm founded in 1992 and previously known as Pensions 2000.
Gail Stone, executive director of the public employees system, said money managers indirectly subsidize the conferences though they are barred from marketing themselves to system officials at the meetings.
If the system paid the full cost, system trustees and officials wouldn’t attend, Stone said.
"You would be writing I am spending X dollars of taxpayers’ money," she explained to a reporter
...The most recent overseas conference attended by officials for Arkansas retirement systems was held May 21-28 in Prague, Czech Republic, and St. Petersburg, Russia.
The World Pension Forum’s conference was dubbed, "Overcoming Obstacles — Is Potential Becoming Reality?"
According to an agenda for the conference, its 14 sponsors included Lazard Asset Management, which is a money manager for the public employees system; The Bank of New York, which is the system’s custodian bank and has a subsidiary that is a money manager for the system; and Capital Group Cos., which is the parent company of a money manager for the teacher retirement system.
Chuck Freadhoff, a spokesman for Capital Group Cos., said a subsidiary, Capital Guardian Trust Co., paid $50,000 to World Pension Forum as a sponsor for the event.
"We meet potential clients, and we meet people who can further our knowledge of emerging markets," he said, explaining why the company would provide such support for such meetings.
Spokesmen for The Bank of New York and Lazard Asset Management declined to say how much they paid to sponsor the conference.
Those who said they attended include state Treasurer Gus Wingfield of Delight, who serves on the both the public employees and teachers systems’ boards; teachers system trustee Linda Parsons of Conway; public employees trustee Larry Fratesi of Pine Bluff; and Stone of Little Rock.
Philip Schaefer, the forum’s president, said the conference’s tuition fee was $1,000.
Some scholarships were given to public pension fund officials who attended to help pay for airline tickets, hotel and ground transportation costs, he said. Forum officials try to comply with the rules governing trustees in each state, he said.

Wingfield said he paid a fee out of his own pocket to the forum for the conference.
"Whatever World Pension Forum sent to us in forms, I paid their price," he said in an interview.
Asked how much he paid, Wingfield replied, "That is personal.
I was on a week’s vacation."
Schaefer declined to disclose how much his firm charged Wingfield or whether Wingfield received a scholarship from the forum.
"We are a private company. That’s for him to tell you," Schaefer said.
Wingfield said he doesn’t know whether he received a discount on what he was charged by the forum.
He is listed as Arkansas’ treasurer on the list of those who attended the conference.
"I guess I was there as a state treasurer, but I didn’t feel like the treasurer’s office should pay for a trip there. ... I got a lot of information, good information that I think will help me with investing in this emerging European market," he said.
"I will be the treasurer until January of 2007 and where I go I am still the treasurer, but I am not there in official treasurer capacity. I took a week’s vacation from this office and paid my own way," said Wingfield, who hasn’t announced whether he’ll seek re-election.
He said money managers didn’t pay for him to attend the conference.
Through his chief deputy, Dan Honey, Wingfield later declined to answer other questions from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette...
Wingfield said he attended a forum conference in China last year. He also declined to say how much he paid to attend it.
"I paid whatever they said their price would be... out of my personal checking account. I never billed anyone for it," he said.
The teacher system paid $750 each in conference fees for Parsons and Wingfield to attend the Pensions 2000 conference in Beijing and Tokyo in April 2001, according to system records.
Pensions 2000 was to reimburse each participant’s airfare, lodging and meals, then-system Executive Director Bill Shirron wrote in a letter to the state’s Office of Accounting in 2001.
According to a copy of his registration form, Wingfield’s wife would accompany him at the conference. The conference charged a $750 fee for a spouse or guest, according to the form.
Wingfield’s registration form refers to the teacher system and two scholarships that include airfare, hotels and meals.
Wingfield didn’t list the conference on his Statement of Financial Interest for 2001.
A copy for a Statement of Financial Interest for Parsons in 2001 isn’t on file with the secretary of state’s office, according to that office.
Parsons said she was never told whether it cost Pensions 2000 more than the conference fees paid by the system.
"I thought they were getting excellent rates," she said.
Fratesi said he also attended forum conferences in Budapest, Hungary, and Vienna, Austria, in 2000; Berlin, Germany, and Moscow, Russia, in 2002; and Hong Kong and Shanghai, China, in 2004. The system paid a fee for him to attend each time, he said.
"I view it as part of the educational process and trying to be a better trustee," he said.
Fratesi didn’t report the 2000, 2002 or 2004 conferences on his Statements of Financial Interest.
He said he doesn’t know whether he received scholarships for the events.
Stone said she’s also attended conferences in Paris and Marrakech, Morocco, in 1996; Stockholm, Sweden, and St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1998; Rome and Istanbul, Turkey, in 1999; and Madrid, Spain, and Paris in 2000.
She reported that Pensions 2000 paid for airfare, hotel and meals for the 1998, 1999 and 2000 conferences, while the Institute for Fiduciary Education reimbursed her travel expenses for the 1996 conference.
To illustrate the benefit of attending the conferences, she said the system had invested less than $1 million in Russia stocks through one money manager who was fired in 1998.
Stone said her trip to St. Petersburg to 1998 confirmed her confidence in the system’s decision to fire the manager. She said that people attending that conference needed bodyguards and the buildings weren’t maintained and storefronts were barren.
"The overall tone of the city was one of disarray," she said.
But Stone said the improvement in the economic well-being of St. Petersburg was obvious during her trip there this spring.
"Stores were well stocked; people weren’t sullen; capitalism seems to have taken root. I’m very comfortable with investing there now," she said.

(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 9/26/05)

Powered by Blogger