Organization Seeks Constitutional Amendment to Prevent Investment of Arizona Dollars in Iran

As the 41st U.S. senator voiced support for President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran this week, further diminishing the chance any Republican effort to block the deal in Congress will succeed, a different tactic to undermine the negotiations is brewing in Arizona and a handful of other states.

The effort comes from a nonprofit calling itself “Defund Iran.” The group is launching a campaign to amend constitutions in as many states as possible so that no state tax or pension dollars may be invested in entities doing business with designated sponsors of terrorism. Iran is one of three countries on the U.S. State Department's list.

The Defund Iran grassroots campaign officially has begun in Arizona, Florida, Colorado, Missouri, and Ohio, and the group's focus is a specific a provision in the Iran deal that requires the federal government to use “all available authorities” to get states with anti-terrorism divestment laws to overturn their policies. The provision states: 

“If a law at the state or local level in the United States is preventing the implementation of the sanctions lifting as specified in this [joint plan of action], the United States will take appropriate steps, taking into account all available authorities, with a view to achieving such implementation. The United States will actively encourage officials at the state or local level to take into account the changes in the U.S. policy reflected in the lifting of sanctions under this [joint plan] and to refrain from actions inconsistent with this change in policy.”
According to Arizona Speaker of the House David Gowan, co-chair of Arizona's Defund Iran initiative, “President Obama’s pending deal with Iran includes a direct assault on states' rights. In the very text of the agreement, this administration clearly states its intention to force states into abandoning their anti-terrorism policies.”

Arizona House Majority Leader Steve Montenego, another co-chair of the Arizona initiative, echoes the sentiment: “We will not allow the federal government to force our states to choose terrorists over taxpayers. And we urge other states to join us. We will give Arizona voters the opportunity to not only fully restore Arizona’s divestiture laws but to enshrine the law in our state constitution.”

Defund Iran plans to have similar divestment efforts going in 15 states by the end of this month and hopes to garner enough support and signatures to get a question about the amendment on November 2016 general election ballots.

Whether the group will be successful in Arizona remains to be seen — both of Arizona's U.S. senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, have come out against the deal, as have Congress members Matt Salmon, Martha McSally, Trent Franks, and David Schweiker.

In a statement released today, Franks wrote: “I applaud and fully support Arizona’s leadership in this national effort. The Iran deal is just another glaring example of the Obama [administration's] taking actions that are clearly against the national security interests of the United States. The states can and will make an impact. In spite of the failed leadership coming out of Washington, citizens in Arizona and all across America intend to stand up and do our part to defund Iran, defend our values, and defeat terrorism.”

Nationally, the latest polls show the American public is divided along partisan lines over the merits of the deal — which lifts U.S. sanctions on Iran in return for limits on its nuclear program — and even in a Republican-controlled state like Arizona, not everyone believes the deal is bad.

“At a time when our state Legislature should be settling its education-funding lawsuit after years of short-changing our children, the Islamophobes are pulling out the stops to deny President Obama a foreign-policy legacy win,” says Chris Fleischman, who organized a pro-Iran deal rally last week in Tempe.

“Defund Iran is the height of disrespect for the office of the president, in general, and specifically for the holder of the office. In his casual disregard for the supremacy of the federal government, House Speaker David Gowan uses the same dog-whistle language, i.e. states' rights, that were invoked to unsuccessfully oppose civil rights and the secession from the Union by the Confederacy.”
In a recent op-ed, Defund Iran leaders (apparently disregarding the polls) wrote that none of them has “met a person who thinks it wise to spend or invest the people’s money with terror states like Iran, [which] hold our citizens, soldiers, and journalists hostage, [and which is] committed to harming America and the destruction of our ally Israel . . . We are adamant that individual states will not be forced by this administration, or any other, into succumbing to the Iranian Nuclear Agreement by no longer enforcing their respective sanctions against terrorists.”

Getting the divestment issue on the ballot “empowers people to participate in helping fight the war on terror [and] allows the people to send a clear message that this is our money, and we don’t want it spent with terrorists,” they add. “Elected officials need an occasional reminder that the money they spend doesn’t belong to them, but to the people they were elected to represent . . . Let's put it to a vote.”

Defund Iran hopes to add the following language to state constitutions: 
“In order to ensure that taxpayer money does not directly or indirectly support international acts of terrorism, the State of Arizona and its cities, counties and other political subdivisions shall not contract with or invest in any individuals, partnerships, corporations or other legal entities invested in or doing business with countries designated by the US State Department, as of January 1, 2015, as state sponsors of terrorism.

Existing contracts and/or investments must not be renewed, and must be cancelled or divested at the earliest prudent opportunity. Under no circumstance shall such contracts and/or investments be in force past December 31, 2018.”

Prohibited countries will be added to the list when designated by the US State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism. Countries can be removed from the prohibition list only upon their reclassification by the U.S. State Department, and an affirmative majority vote of the State House and State Senate and the signature of the Governor, or by the overriding of the Governor’s veto by the State House and State Senate by a 2/3rds vote."

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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser