DeSantis wants to ban state pension investments based on political factors

By: - July 27, 2022 5:51 pm

The New York Stock Exchange Building’s Broad Street entrance (right) as seen from Wall Street. Credit: Wikipedia

Gov. Ron DeSantis is broadening his attack on “woke” capitalism, promising to punish investment advisers and banks that consider the environmental and social implications of investing and not just the short-term bottom line.

During a news conference Wednesday in Tampa, he singled out the “ESG” investment movement, which stands for environment, social, and governance (meaning the way companies are structured). The movement is also known as “sustainable” investing but DeSantis said it amounts to “the politization of the economy.”

“It benefits the largest, most powerful corporations and it disadvantages the small and medium-sized businesses. And so, this is not something that is empowering, kinda, the little guy. You know, this is something that is, in many respects, crushing the little guy,” he said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis addressed a news conference in Tampa on Aug. 27. Source: Screenshot: DeSantis Facebook page

“You have a handful of people in Davos deciding all this, that this is how we’re supposed to live? Not on my watch. Not here in the state of Florida,” he said in another election-year appeal to his Trumpist base following his earlier attack on The Walt Disney Co.

(Davos, Switzerland, is the site of the annual World Economic Forum, attended by the global business elite.)

A display behind the governor read: “Government of laws, not woke CEOs.”

Paul Renner, the Republican representing Flagler and parts of St. Johns and Volusia counties who’s slotted to serve as the next speaker of the Florida House, said during the event that the Legislature would back the governor with legislation enforcing the policy.

The incoming Florida Senate president, Kathleen Passidomo, was not in attendance.

Renner described the trend as “basically a global elite weaponizing American capitalism against us.” It’s both a national security and a pocketbook issue, Renner said, driving up energy costs, “choking” investments in private companies helping with border enforcement, and influencing agricultural production.

“It you’re a meat eater, get ready,” Renner said.

“If you were trying to take down a great nation, my question is this: What would you do differently?”

DeSantis’ plan

The plan, according to the governor, is to:

  • Prohibit the State Board of Administration, which manages some $240 million in pension investments on behalf of state and some local government retirees, from considering what DeSantis called “political factors.” The board includes DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis. Its next meeting is set for Aug. 23.
  • Require the state’s fund managers “to only consider maximizing the return on investment on behalf of Florida’s retirees.”
  • Prohibit banks, credit card companies, and financial platforms like PayPal “from discriminating against customers for their religious, political, or social beliefs.” Moms for Liberty co-founder Tina Descovich complained during the news conference that the company has held up donations to the group.

DeSantis Watch, a joint effort by Progress Florida and Florida Watch to defeat DeSantis in November, responded Wednesday with a statement saying DeSantis’ plans would limit Florida’s ability to fight the climate crisis:

‘Today, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced he would prohibit the State Board of Administration (SBA) from taking into account the impact corporations the state invests in through our pension fund have on the environment, their commitment to human rights, and their standards for bribery and corruption. By prohibiting the use of environmental, social, and governance standards when the state makes investment decisions the governor is once again doing the bidding of his large corporate donors and billionaire supporters like Elon Musk instead of putting the best interests of Floridians first,” it reads.

“Florida is ground zero for the climate crisis but once again Ron DeSantis lacks the courage to take any real action to protect the livelihoods of the people of our state,” said DeSantis Watch Constituencies Director Natasha Sutherland.

The DeSantis policy “doesn’t take on corporations, it does the bidding of the worst of them by refusing to address their environmental impacts, human rights records, or levels of corruption while the state invests our public tax dollars with them. Rather than working on behalf of Floridians worried their jobs may not exist as rising sea levels destroy our coastlines, the governor is fighting to show Elon Musk how much he wants to add him to his stable of 42 billionaires already supporting his political ambitions.”

The governor’s initiative reflects a broader movement among Republican state leaders, including in energy-producing states like Alaska and Texas, to disinvest in companies and investment funds promoting ESG, according to a report by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Leaders in such states complain it has become “difficult for fossil fuel projects to find insurance, financing, and other backing if they don’t meet some of the sustainability standards,” the Pew report says.

Also on hand during the news conference was Justin Danhof, head of corporate governance for Strive Asset Management, which promises “excellence not politics” to its investors. The $20 million fund pitches itself as an alternative to the three largest asset managers: BlackRock Inc., Vanguard Group Inc., and State Street Corp., which control $20 trillion. Strive’s investors include billionaire right-wing activist Peter Thiel.

DeSantis met on Tuesday with Vivek Ramaswami, Strive’s co-founder and author of last year’s “Woke Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam,” according to the governor’s official schedule for the day.

“Right now in America, nearly 250 years after we declared freedom from the British, we’re battling a new monarchy. It’s actually a behemoth ideological cartel,” Danhof said of the Big Three. He accused them of “transforming the fabric of society in a way that most Americans disagree with.”

Forming a bloc

DeSantis said, “What we need to do is get other, like-minded, states to have all of our retirement systems’ voting rights used as a bloc, basically.”

“Obviously, California and New York are going to do their things in the other direction. We understand that. But if we could get Florida, Texas, you know, Arizona, Tennessee — a lot of these states could come together and we’d have a lot of money, uh, a lot of voting power, under management, and so we could be a real check against a lot of the excesses that we’ve seen and probably have, uh, enough resources to beat back a lot of this stuff,” he added.

He blamed pressure from “activist employees” and outside groups.

“But then, I also think, you know, some of these folks — it’s one thing to make a lot of money; some of these folks really want to exercise power over the rest of us,” the governor said.

“And I think it’s a power play where, yes, some of these people that are running these institutions are not electable if they ever wanted to run for anything because they’re just not appealing in terms of what they would stand for. But, if they could do policy through a large bank or an asset manager or something like that — well man, they’re really shaping society based on their ideological vision.”

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal.