Among other claims, the lawsuit alleges the Oklahoma law violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and is "unconstitutionally vague," giving Russ "a lot of leeway" in determining how financial firms are discriminating against the oil and gas industry.
The lawsuit also argues that the law defies Oklahoma's state constitution, which requires state pension systems to operate for the "exclusive benefit" of their beneficiaries.
The cost of having to divest assets from the six blacklisted firms said to boycott the fossil-fuel industry is "monumental," the lawsuit contends, citing the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System, which would pay an estimated $10 million to divest assets from BlackRock and State Street. The other four blacklisted firms are Wells Fargo & Co., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Bank of America and Climate First Bank.
"I do not have any objections to oil and gas operations and believe they are important and critical to the world economy," plaintiff Don Keenan wrote in an affidavit that is part of the lawsuit. "However, as a retiree under the OPERS system, I object to my retirement benefits being depleted because the State of Oklahoma believes that making political statements with retiree dollars is more important than taking care of retirees themselves."
In a statement, Russ said he was "happy to follow the legislature in the future," adding that the "spirit and intention of the law is to protect Oklahomans and the economic base of the state."
The lawsuit is part of a coalition effort to block the enforcement of the Oklahoma legislation.
"The Keep Oklahoma's Promises Coalition, Oklahoma Retired Educators Association and the Oklahoma Public Employees Association are proud to announce we are taking a stance against State Treasurer Todd Russ's political games and any future politicization of our retirement funds," Tony DeSha, executive director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, said in a news release.
"The decision to pursue legal action against Todd Russ was not taken lightly, but we feel it is necessary to strengthen the fiduciary responsibility of our pension systems," he said.
The lawsuit follows a blistering op-ed piece DeSha published in Oklahoma newspaper Pawhusksa Journal-Capital, attacking Russ for choosing to "undermine the will and fiduciary duty of Oklahoma's pensions."
"We have made great progress for state employees and refuse to stand idly by as Treasurer Russ diminishes our members' hard-earned retirement funds, and the promises made by the state to public-sector employees, in the name of political activism," he wrote in the editorial on Oct. 30.