Florida leaders moved forward with preventing state pension-fund-investment decisions that promote “social, political or ideological interests.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis took aim late last month at investment practices that involve what are known as “environmental, social and governance ratings,” which can include such things as taking into account climate change.
The three Republicans, who serve as trustees of the State Board of Administration, approved a resolution that directed pension-fund managers against using so-called ESG ratings when investing state money.
DeSantis, who frequently criticizes “woke” politics, said the intent of the move was to keep pension systems from becoming “roadkill in somebody’s ideological agenda.” He also criticized ESG activities at places such as the World Economic Forum, an invitation-only event in Davos, Switzerland.
“Things like the World Economic Forum, those policies are dead on arrival in the state of Florida,” DeSantis declared. “We are not going to go down that road.”
DeSantis, who, along with Moody and Patronis, is running for re-election this year, said he plans to work with legislative leaders to put the changes into state law.
ESG ratings can involve considering a wide range of issues in investments, such as companies’ climate-change vulnerabilities; carbon emissions; racial inequality; product safety; supply-chain labor standards; privacy and data security; and executive compensation.
Larry Fink, CEO of the BlackRock asset-management firm and a leader in the use of the metrics, said in his 2022 letter to corporate executives that companies using ESG standards are “performing better than their peers.”
“Stakeholder capitalism is not about politics,” Fink wrote. “It is not a social or ideological agenda. It is not ‘woke.’ It is capitalism, driven by mutually beneficial relationships between you and the employees, customers, suppliers, and communities your company relies on to prosper.”
DeSantis has said that “some of the ESG funds have performed poorly, because they’re more focused on ideology rather than helping the people that would benefit from strong returns.”
The State Board of Administration oversees the massive Florida Retirement System for government employees, along with other state investment funds.
The decision by DeSantis, Moody and Patronis requires the agency to update an investment policy statement to ensure decisions are based solely on “pecuniary factors” and not to consider the “furtherance of social, political or ideological interests.”
Also, the resolution addresses proxy voting to ensure that the agency acts “prudently and solely in the interests” of pension participants and beneficiaries.
Lamar Taylor, interim executive director of the State Board of Administration, said the use of ESG ratings has increased as more capital has been steered into the hands of a limited number of investment managers and because of a shift in the regulatory environment related to rules from the U.S. Department of Labor.
“We think these phenomenon together create both the means and the potential incentive for certain investment managers to elevate the achievement of certain political, social and ideological objectives over and above financial-return objectives for the funds they manage,” Taylor said.
DeSantis said the economy shouldn’t be politicized.
“You need to have an economy that functions like an economy traditionally has functioned, not where all these big private actors are putting thumbs on the scales of all these political issues or infusing the economy with political ideology,” DeSantis said. “Yes, we see this all tends to go one way. But even if it went other ways, it’s just not a healthy thing.”
Patronis said he expects other states will follow.
“I look at the dysfunction that we’ve had in Washington,” Patronis said. “The lack of listening to the public. Pounding people with inflation problems. And the (Biden) administration, their solution is adding more IRS agents to the solution just to harvest more dollars.”
Incoming state House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, has called ESG practices a national-security issue and a pocketbook issue, saying “global elites” are “weaponizing American capitalism against us.”