Rep. Stanford Parris (R-Va.) said this week that if the D.C. government approves a pending bill to prohibit city investments in banks and corporations that do business in South Africa, he will try to get Congress to overturn the legislation as financially unsound.
Parris' position could make the South Africa issue the latest in a series of confrontations between the city and Congress over D.C. policies and the concept of home rule.
City Council member John Ray (D-At Large), author of the legislation, and council Chairman David A. Clarke both expressed indignation yesterday that Parris would make his remarks before hearings had been held by the council on the measure.
Hearings are to start today in Ray's consumer and regulatory affairs subcommittee.
Ray predicted his measure would pass, and Clarke said that the council should approve some form of legislation to keep District citizens' money from going to South Africa, which continues to practice apartheid.
Ray's bill would require the city to withdraw investments from banks or other financial institutions or companies that operate in South Africa or make investment loans there. It would not prohibit the city from buying products from these corporations, but would, for example, prevent it from investing in their stock, a Ray staff aide said.
Parris released a list of about 250 U.S. companies, including some of the nation's largest, in which the city's pension funds could not invest under the proposed legislation. On the list were Xerox and IBM, the Big Three auto manufacturers, Marriott Corp. and General Electric, among others.
"To arbitrarily limit city pension funds to the exclusion of investments in most of the major corporations of the United States is just unwise," Parris said. He said that if the city approves the bill, he will introduce a resolution of disapproval in the House.
Congress has the authority to disapprove District-passed legislation. So far it has done so only twice, though at other times Congress has used its authority over the city's budget to make the city take specific actions, such as hiring more police officers.
Clarke said the city has to be responsible with employes' retirement funds and should try to make the best investments it can, but that other issues may be overriding.
"It's the right of a government to take the second-best deal if there is something wrong with the best deal. It's the moral privilege of any government," he said.
In the past two years, Parris has succeeded in blocking city efforts to select new police officers by lottery and has forced the city to put more money into the pension fund for city teachers, firefighters and police.
D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy said he was in sympathy with the Ray proposal and would resist efforts to disapprove it in Congress.