Wall Street. Credit: Emmanuel Huybrechts via Wikimedia Commons
Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet met Tuesday for the first time in four years without a Democrat to hector the governor over his polices — and took the occasion to OK pension investment guidelines that bar “environmental, social, or governance” considerations.
Wilton Simpson — the Republican former Florida Senate president who won election in November as Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services — took the seat once occupied by Democrat Nikki Fried, who, instead of seeking reelection, ran a losing race for her party’s gubernatorial nomination. She lost that race to former Congressman Charlie Crist, who lost the general election to DeSantis.
“Commissioner, you’ve been quiet down there. Welcome to the fray,” DeSantis told Simpson as the Cabinet meeting drew to a close. “Got any words of wisdom for us?”
The governor and Cabinet jointly oversee a range of policy matters, including more than $200 billion in state and local government pension investments through the State Board of Administration, comprising the governor, Attorney General Ashley Moody, and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, all Republicans and all independently elected.
They’ve scheduled six formal meetings this year plus six to hear clemency pleas by former felons. They held only three last year, when Democrat Fried served. The governor and Cabinet met monthly before DeSantis took office four years ago but DeSantis said he saw no need to meet that often.
This group pushed through the new investment policy virtually without debate, although they’d discussed the matter when they directed staff to draft the policy in August. DeSantis also is seeking legislation this year to firm up the policy.
“ESG” refers to an established principle in investment circles that money managers should factor in environmental, social, and governance principles when evaluating a company’s health, on the theory that any one of those factors could affect the investment’s payoff.
Environmental factors could include investments in fossil fuels; social criteria include workplace diversity, working conditions, and health and safety; and governance involves corporate safeguards against corruption, including executive compensation, political contributions, and board diversity and structure.
The movement has inspired a conservative backlash against some of the world’s largest investment banks, including BlackRock, JPMorgan, and Goldman Sachs.
DeSantis in July called ESG “woke capitalism” and “the politization of the economy,” adding: “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’s made opposition to “woke” his political trademark, raising it during his second inaugural address earlier this month, and it has featured in his policies on education, COVID policy, social media, and more.
Patronis, who manages state government’s books among other duties, has already begun moving $2 billion in state investments away from BlackRock over his ESG concerns.
The new policy holds that investment decisions may rest only upon “pecuniary” factors, meaning financial returns only.
“Pecuniary factors do not include the consideration of the furtherance of social, political, or ideological interests,” it says.
“The board may not subordinate the interests of the participants and beneficiaries to other objectives and may not sacrifice investment return or take on additional investment risk to promote any non-pecuniary factors,” it continues.
Matt Orsagh of the CFA Institute, which trains financial advisers, told the Phoenix last year that ESG criteria are material to the health of investments.
“You can take climate change seriously as an issue or not, but Florida is going to be gone in 80 years. It’s just going to be gone. That’s a real issue that we know is going to happen if we just stay on this trajectory. That’s not wokeness; that’s just looking at the data and seeing what it tells us,” he said.
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