The Public Sector Retirement Systems project, a division of the Pew Charitable Trusts, is a well-known source of information on a variety of topics from religion in public life to the health of the oceans. In one particular area though, Pew publishes misleading research funded by shady money.
The Public Sector Retirement Systems project of Pew has received almost $10 million from John Arnold over a seven year period. If you don’t remember, Arnold is a former Wall Street hedge fund manager who has committed over $50 million of his personal fortune to gutting retirement security for public employees around the country. His donations to Pew represent one of his largest donations to any one organization in his quest to destroy public pensions. By donating to Pew, which is perceived as a neutral, nonpartisan organization, Arnold attempts to give a veneer of credibility to his anti-pension rhetoric.
Pew is well-known for promoting cash balance plans. I wrote about cash balance plans last week and how they fail to provide adequate retirement security for teachers, firefighters, and other public employees. Pew doesn’t just release reports though. They are actively involved in a number of state legislatures in promoting cash balance plans. They have lobbied for these failed plans in Kansas, Kentucky, Alabama, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and others. And remember, all of this is done with the backing of John Arnold’s money.
It’s time for Pew to come clean about the research it is promoting. Pew claims to be neutral and unbiased, but it seems more than a coincidence that they receive millions of dollars from John Arnold and then actively promote the anti-pension plans that he supports. If they want to be a neutral source of critical information about public sector retirement plans, then they should return all funding they have received from John Arnold and refuse his money in the future. They should also look at the mounting evidence that defined benefit pensions offer stronger investment returns and more retirement security than defined contribution 401(k)-style plans. If they did, they would reconsider their support of inadequate and opaque cash balance plans. In the meantime, if you hear about Pew in your state, please let us know. If Pew is there, it means your retirement security is at risk.