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Florida’s CFO divested the state from BlackRock, but not his own accounts

While divesting state money, he owned about $75,000 in a BlackRock-managed fund.
 
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis speaks to a crowd during the Keep Florida Free Tour on Aug. 24, 2022, in Tampa.
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis speaks to a crowd during the Keep Florida Free Tour on Aug. 24, 2022, in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Jan. 26|Updated Jan. 26

TALLAHASSEE — As Gov. Ron DeSantis led Florida’s charge against “woke” investing in recent years, the state’s chief financial officer has positioned himself as a loyal soldier.

CFO Jimmy Patronis has raged on X, formerly Twitter, about companies’ policies to consider environmental, social and corporate governance factors. Like DeSantis, most of that ire has been directed at the investment giant BlackRock, and Patronis ordered a state fund under his supervision to divest $2 billion managed by the company in 2022.

Divesting his personal accounts is another story.

While he was purging the treasury account of BlackRock funds, he did not divest more than $75,000 in a company-managed fund he personally owned, according to his most recent financial disclosure filed with the state.

Patronis’ BlackRock holdings were in a 401(k) profit-sharing plan for the Panama City Beach restaurant he owns.

Devin Galetta, spokesperson for Patronis’ office, did not address the discrepancy, but said in a statement that “not all (Patronis’) personal retirement investments can be winners.”

“His personal money is managed by another party, and at any given time his retirement money is moving to all sorts of places that he’s not aware of,” Galetta said.

The amount is a pittance compared to the restaurateur and 17-year politician’s overall $6.9 million net worth, but it runs contrary to his own statements about BlackRock over the last 14 months.

Since 2022, Patronis has posted on X about the company or its CEO, Larry Fink, at least 15 times, at one point comparing him to a “Bond villain.”

“Using Florida’s cash to fund BlackRock’s social-engineering project isn’t something we signed up for,” Patronis posted on X (then known as Twitter) in December 2022.

DeSantis and Patronis have blasted the asset management firm as the poster child for what they call “woke” investing. BlackRock, like many companies, uses environmental, social and governance factors, such as the way companies treat their employees, when deciding where to invest.

DeSantis made fighting ESG one of the common talking points of his failed presidential campaign, saying it is part of the “woke mind virus” designed to “exercise power over our society.” Last year, he pushed lawmakers to pass legislation banning state and local governments from investing in funds or purchasing bonds based on ESG factors.

On Dec. 1, 2022, Patronis announced that the Florida Treasury, which he oversees, would begin divesting $2 billion in assets managed by BlackRock. (No public effort has been made to divest about $13 billion BlackRock manages in Florida’s retirement funds.)

The move generated national headlines and appearances on cable news for Patronis, who has floated the idea of running for governor. Patronis has made a habit of proposing headline-generating ideas while in office, such as ordering the state’s 100,000 businesses to voluntarily report whether they were owned by Communist China.

Most recently, he persuaded two Republican lawmakers to file legislation that would have created a $5 million fund for former President Donald Trump’s legal defense fees. The legislation was withdrawn after DeSantis promptly threatened to veto it.

Patronis’ $75,516.35 was in BlackRock’s Emerging Markets Fund, according to his financial disclosure dated Dec. 31, 2022.

The company’s site says the fund “does not seek to follow a sustainable, impact or ESG investment strategy.” The largest share of the fund’s investments, about 23%, are in Chinese companies, including the e-commerce giant Alibaba and Tencent, which owns the country’s overwhelmingly popular app WeChat.

Since divesting the treasury from BlackRock, the $60 billion in taxpayer money Patronis manages has generated $1.1 billion in interest — evidence that it has “performed well,” Galetta said.

“The CFO may reach out to his personal money people in the future to see if they can act more like the State,” Galetta said.