Call it putting lipstick on a pig, rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, or whatever else. BlackRock CEO Larry Fink isn’t concerned with the actual discriminatory investment strategy his firm executes. Instead, he’s upset the world’s largest investment asset manager is caught up in the growing anti-ESG pushback that’s impacting his bottom line now that Americans are paying more attention to the ruse.
Fink revealed at the Aspen Ideas Festival that he’s “ashamed” to be a part of the ESG “debate.” If you thought he might change the direction of BlackRock’s investment strategies, think again. Fink would rather just change the verbiage.
BlackRock manages more than $10 trillion in assets for investors. That’s a lot of money and with such a large piggybank under his control, Fink bought into the ESG movement. That’s the environmental, social and governance investment strategy that started popping up more frequently about 10 or 12 years ago where activist investment managers began sacrificing their fiduciary responsibilities to maximize shareholder returns to instead abdicate that role in favor of forcing a left-wing social and political agenda that has failed to succeed legislatively.
Under the Obama administration, an initiative called “Operation Choke Point” was launched by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) to stop financial institutions from offering services to some regulated industries in an attempt to throttle banking services. This operation, which represented an abuse of the agencies’ statutory authority, was first aimed at non-depository lenders (so-called payday lenders) but expanded to target ammunition and firearm sales, tobacco sales and pharmaceutical sales, among other industries. President Donald Trump’s administration put an end to the practice, though today ESG strategies have been privatized.
Fast forward to today. BlackRock is guilty of pushing ESG strategies, as are numerous major banks and investment institutions as well. Fink was questioned about his firm’s devotion to ESG strategies at the Aspen Ideas Festival and initially told the crowd, “I’m ashamed of being part of this conversation. I’m not going to use the word ESG because it’s been misused by the far left and the far right,” he said.
— The Washington Times (@WashTimes) June 27, 2023
Fink was later pressed again on being ashamed of his firm’s position. When pushed on his statement, he reversed course. “I never said I was ashamed. I do believe in conscientious capitalism.”
States Taking Anti-ESG Stands
Fink might have been caught tongue-tied on his firm’s approach to ESG, but the bottom line reveals the impact and the pushback BlackRock has felt. Fink acknowledged to the crowd that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision in 2022 to pull $2 billion in state assets from BlackRock because of the “woke” ESG investment agenda hurt the firm. Gov. DeSantis wasn’t alone in taking a strong stance against the flawed investment approach.
Last October, Missouri Attorney General Scott Fitzpatrick divested $500 million in assets managed by BlackRock on behalf of the Missouri State Employees’ Retirement System (MOSERS). AG Fitzpatrick criticized BlackRock’s blind commitment to ESG principles, noting that “fiduciary duty must remain the top priority for investment managers—a duty some of them have abdicated in favor of forcing a left-wing social and political agenda that has failed to succeed legislatively, on publicly traded companies.”
South Carolina’s Treasurer Curtis Loftis said he would remove $200 million of state retirement funds from BlackRock control by December. Louisiana’s treasurer John Schroder told Financial Times that he would divest $794 million from BlackRock as well. Additionally, Utah and Arkansas committed to pull $100 million and $125 million, respectively, from BlackRock over concerns that the firm prioritizes ESG principles over sound fiduciary management of state funds.
Utah’s Treasurer Marlo Oaks said, “We need to ensure that the money is not being used to drive a separate agenda different from our obligation” to maximize benefits to Utah residents, not left-wing climate agendas.
The ESG pushback doesn’t end there. In early August of last year, 19 state attorneys general sent a joint letter to Fink voicing similar concerns that the company’s ESG agenda hampers its ability to deliver a maximum return on investment for its shareholders.
It’s been an anti-woke, anti-ESG tidal wave building and the release is being felt by the likes of Fink, BlackRock and others.
The states haven’t been alone in taking strong stands against discriminatory banking and lending practices against the firearm industry. Federal legislators in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the Firearm Industry Nondiscrimination (FIND) Act to end the ability of corporate entities to profit from taxpayer-funded federal contracts while discriminating against a Constitutionally-protected industry at the same time. That bill, H.R. 53, was introduced by U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.) and had 55 original cosponsors.
In the U.S. Senate, Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) has led the effort by introducing companion FIND Act legislation. Still other federal efforts have led to bills being introduced to bar credit card companies from creating a special merchant category code (MCC) to track lawful firearm-related purchases at firearm retailers. The major credit card companies have backed off that effort after NSSF-led efforts in the states and federal level.
Major banking and lending institutions are realizing they’re on notice. Law-abiding Americans aren’t going to tolerate covert discrimination and back-door boardroom politics that restricts their Constitutional rights, especially the Second Amendment. If they don’t change course, banking CEOs will continue to see their bottom lines taking hits.
Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.