JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, and former State Treasurer Sarah Steelman discussed their part in a new effort called Defund Iran Tuesday.
The group that will aim to keep Missouri pension dollars from going to the Iranian government. Steelman will serve as the chairwoman for the organization, and Schmitt will take the lead at the state level in Missouri.
Four other states, Ohio, Colorado, Florida and Arizona, are already on board, and Steelman hopes that at least 25 other states will join.
“Today, we are launching an initiative called Defund Iran as a way to put back into the hands of the people the power to hurt Iran, to keep money out of Iran and keep our citizens safe,” Steelman said. “A lot of talk in Washington about how dangerous and bad the Iran deal is for nuclear safety. Iran is the biggest sponsor of terrorism in the world. They hold American citizens as captives. This nuclear deal will allow hundreds of millions of dollars to flow back into Iran.”
The formation of Defund Iran comes as President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with the Middle Eastern nation, which has prompted widespread criticism from Republicans, reaches a critical point. Enough Senate Democrats, including Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, are now expected to vote in favor of the legislation that Obama likely will not even need to veto a measure from Republicans disapproving the deal.
Defund Iran will look to ensure two things: the first would be to remove state pension funding from companies that do business with state sponsors of terrorism, including and especially Iran, and the second would be to ensure the Obama administration could not revoke a state’s right to economic sanction.
“This is designed to cut off investment money, whether it’s in contracts or otherwise, in doing business with Iran or other state sponsors of terrorism,” Steelman said. “A company that has a contract with the government of Iran is a company we do not want to invest in.”
Currently, the U.S. federal government restricts American businesses or individuals from doing business with Iran, and for the most part, the deal will not change that rule. One provision would allow for the sale of commercial passenger aircraft and related parts to be sold to Iran as well as open up ways for Iranian-made carpets and foods to come into the U.S. The deal would also allow foreign subsidiaries of American companies to operate in Iran.
The second concern of the group, which revolves around a state’s right to act against terrorism in whatever capacity it chooses revolves around the 25th paragraph of the Iran deal, according to Schmitt. Schmitt’s interpretation of the paragraph means that the federal government can override state governments if state governments have provisions against funding terrorism.
“In the nuclear agreement, the Obama Administration approved a special deal that would preempt state laws and policies that prevent tax dollars from being invested with international entities that fund terror states,” Schmitt said in a statement. “Missourians deserve the opportunity to send Washington a message that their tax dollars should not be funneled to any country that has made ‘death to America’ their national slogan and seek to harm and kill our people.”
United States Secretary of State John Kerry has said states would be able to keep their sanctions, but that the administration would urge them not to act against the deal, if Iran upholds their end of the bargain.
The actual effort of the Defund Iran group will present itself either through legislative action or as an initiative-petition for the Nov. 2016 elections. Either way, Schmitt says he would like to see something on the ballot about the issue.
“When you are dealing with issues of national security and people’s tax dollars like this, I think on issues like this it’s important for the people to weigh in,” Schmitt said.
The group itself also wants to see language put on the ballot, and its focus on key battleground states such as Ohio, Florida and Missouri, may be a way to attract Republican voters to the polls in a presidential election year.