Missoula City Council orders divestment of funds from Wells Fargo

Protesters demonstrate against the Energy Transfer Partners’ Dakota Access oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

By Sherry Devlin/Missoula Current

The Missoula City Council voted unanimously Monday night to divest all city funds from Wells Fargo Bank, bringing tears to one council member’s eyes and words of thanks from a dozen citizens in attendance.

The resolution, proposed by councilwomen Ruth Swaney and Heidi West, calls out Wells Fargo both for its nearly $4 billion involvement in the Dakota Access Pipeline and for unscrupulous and predatory banking practices.

All of those who spoke at Monday’s meeting favored the divestment, and thanked the council for speaking out on behalf of clean water, Native American rights, social and environmental justice, and consumer protection.

Many urged the city to look at its other investments, to ensure that they are socially responsible too.

Missoula has about $2.6 million invested in one money market account with Wells Fargo that will now be redirected to another institution. Several members of the audience suggested that the money be placed with a local financial institution or business.

Swaney had tears in her eyes as the all-in vote of approval was announced, overwhelmed by her fellow council members and by the many local citizens who she said expressed their support in person and by email.

Tribal nations have gone unrecognized, ignored and disrespected, said Missoula resident Joseph Brady. “A statement like divestment is a huge message to every one of these tribes that we hear them and are with them.”

Brady said the banks and companies that are in North Dakota building the pipeline near the Standing Rock Reservation also have their eyes on Montana, where the risk to the headwaters of three major rivers is great.

“The protection of our water is a responsibility for all of us, and for our cities,” he said.

Another man added that it’s only fitting for Missoula to support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s pipeline protest when the city has spent so many years and so much money working to own and protect its drinking water system.

With the divestment vote, Missoula joined the cities of Davis, Calif., and Seattle as well as the University of California in moving their banking services away from Wells Fargo.

Wells Fargo has provided some of the funding for Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The city of Missoula previously adopted a resolution proclaiming its support for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and its opposition to construction of the DAPL.

Wells Fargo not only has provided $347 million in credit facility commitments to the pipeline’s builders and extended a $3 billion line of credit to Energy Transfer Partners, but also underwrote $450 million in bonds in 2015 and $72 million in bonds so far in 2017 for ETP.

And those are not the only practices drawing cities’ ire.

When the University of California divested $475 million from Wells Fargo, it cited the bank’s ties to private correctional facilities. A few months earlier, the university placed a one-year freeze on business arrangements with the bank after national news reports that Wells Fargo employees opened millions of unauthorized credit card accounts to meet sales goals.

In addition, Wells Fargo settled with the U.S. Department of Justice over improper mortgage lending practices, and has been dinged by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for the mishandling of its student loan and veterans mortgage programs.

All of those infractions were mentioned by Missoula’s council in its divestment resolution.