But beneath that mild-manner...ed mien and modest lawyer's attire there is one seriously bad-ass dude. Just ask the people who run OppenheimerFunds Inc.
OppenheimerFunds, once a highly regarded investment firm, handled the money for the Oregon College Savings Network. That's a plan set up to help Oregonians save money for their children's college educations. More than 70,000 families put money into it, trusting that it was competently and conservatively managed.
A lot of those families are going to have a much harder time paying for college educations, or won't be able to send their kids to college at all, because the savings network lost a ton of money in the stock market last year - about 23% of the total value of its portfolio.
John Kroger says OppenheimerFunds Inc. is to blame. And he's doing something about it.
On Monday he filed suit on behalf of the State of Oregon against the company, accusing it of misleading investors and the state board that manages the plan about the way it was handling its money. While assuring them the money was being put into relatively safe, conservative investments, Kroger charged, Oppenheimer actually was taking "extreme risks in a search for speculative large returns."
"Families were doing the right thing and saving for college, but unknown to them or Oregon, their money was invested in ways that were plainly inappropriate for those saving for college or already in college," said State Treasurer Ben Westlund, whose office joined Kroger's in the suit and the three-month investigation that led up to it.
Among other things, Kroger and Westlund claim that the OppenheimerFunds Core Bond Fund shifted its portfolio into higher-risk investments 2007 and 2008, but Oppenheimer didn't tell its investors about the change. The suit alleges negligence, breach of contract and violations of state securities laws and seeks damages of more than $36 million.
Oppenheimer insists it did no wrong, calls the state's accusations "inaccurate, misleading and unfair" and blames the losses on the "volatility" of the market. The courts ultimately will decide whether Oppenheimer or Kroger is right. But in the meantime, we think Kroger deserves props for taking the big guys on.
Some have sneered at Kroger as an "activist" attorney general, and it's true there's been a lot of activity out of his office. Besides Oppenheimer, he's gone after the drug giant Eli Lilly, the insurance giant AIG and the banking giant Swiss Bank USB, as well as many smaller fry - and that's in just three and a half months.
If being an "activist" means being aggressive in defending the public interest, we'd like to see a hell of a lot more activists like Kroger in Salem. So here's the GLASS SLIPPER for you, John - and feel free to exchange it for a steel-toed boot to kick more corporate butt with.