CalPERS at centre of ethics probe

A California ethics board is once again investigating the $237bn public pension – this time over allegations investment staff failed to properly report gifts as required by state law.

Approximately 50 employees at the California Public Employees’ Retirement System are under investigation by the state's political watchdog agency for failing to properly report gifts as required by state law.

“CalPERS has been fully cooperating with the FPPC on this investigation…these matters are still pending and our staff involved have due process rights,” Anne Stausboll, CalPERS’ chief executive, said in a statement.

CalPERS has been fully cooperating with the FPPC on this investigation…these matters are still pending and our staff involved have due process rights

Anne Stausboll

CalPERS’ statement said 50 employees of the $237 billion pension “may have failed to properly report gifts as required in annual Form 700 filings” by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), which has been conducting the investigation for a number of months.

The pension’s chief investment officer, Joseph Dear, board president Rob Feckner and former chief executive Fred Buenrostro, were among those under investigation, according to a report from The Sacremento Bee.

In 2009 the FPPC conducted a separate investigation into former pension board member Charles Valdes for accepting a $38,600 contribution from ARVCO Capital Research, a placement firm chaired by former CalPERS board member Alfred Villalobos, for a 2005 re-election campaign. Valdes later that year agreed to pay $12,500 in relation to the violation.

The pension has since tightened its internal policies including a complete ban on gifts to CalPERS staff, the statement said. The institutional investor is also lending its weight to a state bill that if passed would reduce gift limits to public pension funds to $50.

Buenrostro, who is employed by ARVCO, has also been named in another probe by the state’s attorney general office. CalPERS launched a special review in 2009 when it was revealed that ARVCO was paid more than $70 million by investment firms over a five-year period for work in securing investments from the pension.

“As we learned about apparent misconduct, I issued a request to CalPERS staff who are required to file Form 700s and asked them to review their records since 2005 and ensure that they were in compliance – and if not in compliance, to take the steps necessary to become compliant. Approximately 35 members of our staff voluntarily filed amended documents,” said Stausboll.