DeSantis wants lawmakers to target ‘woke’ financial investment decisions

DeSantis wants to block investment decisions that use “environmental, social and governance” standards.
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference at Harpoon Harry's Crab House, 225 South Franklin St. in Tampa, on July 27, 2022.
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference at Harpoon Harry's Crab House, 225 South Franklin St. in Tampa, on July 27, 2022. [ CHRIS HIPPENSTEEL | Times (2022) ]
Published Feb. 13|Updated Feb. 23

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis outlined a legislative proposal Monday to expand rules to prevent state pension investments that use ratings he and other Republican leaders consider “woke.”

DeSantis said the legislation, which will be pursued during the legislative session that will start March 7, would block all investment decisions based on “environmental, social and governance” standards, known as ESG. The proposal would include addressing such things as where financial reserves are deposited and state and local bond issues.

The proposal is also expected to seek ways to prohibit financial institutions from using “social credit scores” and making lending decisions in a “way to try to change people’s behavior, to try to impose politics on what should just be economic decisions,” DeSantis said during an appearance at Florida SouthWestern State College.

“If buying solar panels, companies and all that, if that is what is going to return the best, you are not restricted at all,” DeSantis said. “You are only restricted if ESG is the rule, because there could be lucrative areas you’re just not going to do because of the politics of it.”

House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, said the legislation is intended to counter asset managers at companies like BlackRock — the largest asset-management firm in the world — that “take all of our money and they invest it in one narrow ideological direction. They don’t speak for your voice or mine. They speak for their voice.”

Related: Florida pulls $2 billion from BlackRock asset management firm over ideology

BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, a leading proponent of ESG metrics, in a letter last year to corporate executives, said companies using the standards are “performing better than their peers.”

A Dec. 8 report from Infosys Research, an information-technology company, concluded that “increased ESG investment correlates with higher profits.”

“Many companies focus ESG efforts on the environmental segment with commitments to carbon neutrality, net zero, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Infosys reported. “However, there are also opportunities to improve financial results through social and governance initiatives. Research data shows social initiatives like board diversity correlate to improved profitability.”

Last year, DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, sitting as trustees of the State Board of Administration, directed pension fund managers against “using political factors when investing the state’s money.”

As part of the directive, investment decisions must be based only on “pecuniary factors,” which can’t include “social, political, or ideological interests.”

Related: DeSantis plans to fight ‘woke ideology’ of Paypal and other financial services

Republican leaders in Florida and other states have targeted ESG for taking into account issues such as climate change, racial inequality and supply-chain labor standards.

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A news release from the governor’s office said the proposal would stop “financial institutions from discriminating against customers for their religious, political, or social beliefs — like owning a firearm, securing the border or increasing our energy independence.”

“They really want to jam this on society,” DeSantis said. “They don’t really have the persuasive ability to get this done through the democratic process, so, they’re hoping if they can just get this spreading to all the elite rungs of society then they can just impose it and basically, we just have to sit and take it. That’s not going to happen in the state of Florida.”

Patronis also barred state asset managers from using any of the $5.1 billion in the Florida deferred compensation program, a supplemental pension coverage offered to more than 93,000 state employees, from making investments associated with ESG strategies.

Rep. Bob Rommel, R-Naples, will sponsor the legislation outlined Monday by DeSantis.

Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, has filed legislation (SB 110) that would put into law a requirement for State Board of Administration evaluations to be based solely on “pecuniary factors.”

By Jim Turner, News Service of Florida

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