Florida Governor Aims for ‘Ideological’ Investing

Continuing to target what he calls “woke” corporations, Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to ban state investments that use “environmental, social and governance” ratings, which can include consideration of climate change impacts.

DeSantis plans to have the State Board of Trustees, which oversees investments, direct pension fund managers against “using political factors in investing state money.” So-called ESG policies have drawn criticism from Republicans across the country.

“We want them [fund managers] to invest the state’s money in the best interest of the beneficiaries of those funds, which again are the people who are retired police officers and teachers and other public servants,” DeSantis said Wednesday during an appearance at Harpoon Harry’s Crab House in Tampa.

DeSantis also intends to work during the 2023 legislative session with incoming House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, to enact ESG bans.

ESG practices can include consideration of a wide range of investment issues, such as companies’ vulnerability to climate change; carbon emissions; product safety; labor standards in the supply chain; data privacy and security; and executive compensation.

DeSantis Watch, a joint project of Florida Watch and Progress Florida that is critical of the governor, issued a statement Wednesday saying DeSantis’ proposal does “the bidding of his big corporate donors and billionaire supporters.”

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

DeSantis, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Attorney General Ashley Moody, who are trustees of the State Board of Administration, are scheduled to meet during an Aug. 23 cabinet meeting.

The managers oversee about $250 billion in assets, investing money from the Florida Retirement System and 25 other funds, while also overseeing the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, a major reinsurance program.

In June, Patronis also targeted investments that incorporate ESG ratings. At the time, Emily Oglesby, a spokeswoman for the State Administrative Board, said in an email that “as fiduciaries, the SBA and its investment managers are required to consider all relevant risks when making investment decisions.”

Oglesby added that “Neither the SBA nor its managers use ESG factors as a way to screen or limit the range of available investment opportunities.”

Supporting DeSantis on Wednesday, Tina Deskovich, co-founder of the conservative group Moms for Liberty, said her organization and some members have had accounts frozen by PayPal.

“In a day and age of repeal culture, when parental rights groups are designated as domestic terrorists by our own United States Department of Justice, revoking our funding from major organizations just seems like the next step in these draconian policies,” said Deskovich while in Harpoon Harry.

On its website, PayPal said that building “a more financially inclusive and interconnected world is the foundation of our values-driven culture, which is based on inclusion, innovation, collaboration and health in our communities, workforce and strategies.”

PayPal said its ESG strategy extends the mission “to promote financial well-being and to empower those underserved by the financial community.”

DeSantis said corporations are being taken over by employee activists who “believe they have a right to have their employer hold the same political values ​​as they do.”

“The problem is, then the inmates run the asylum,” DeSantis continued.

Patronis, in a June letter to the SBA, called the practice “anti-American, anti-Israel and anti-freedom ideology masquerading as a sophisticated business practice.”

At the event at Harpoon Harry’s, Renner supported DeSantis’ call, saying that “global elites” are “weaponizing American capitalism against us.”

Renner, who will become speaker of the House after the November election, has called the corporate practices a matter of national security and a pocketbook issue.

“What we have are these big corporations and banks that are pursuing a woke agenda that is artificially increasing our energy costs,” Renner said. “There’s a reason we don’t build new refineries. There’s a reason we don’t drill for oil, even though we have more reserves in this country than anywhere else in the world, it’s because the banks and this woke program stifle their ability to get financing for it.

DeSantis said ESG is being used by “the upper echelons of our society” to enforce a “woke ideology of economics.”

“We don’t want the economy to be further politicized, and we want to counter the politicization that has already happened,” DeSantis said. “Our investment of funds should be in the best interest of our beneficiaries here in the state of Florida, not be a vehicle to push an ideological agenda.”

The state is embroiled in lawsuits over a new law that curbs race-related workplace and classroom training, dubbed by DeSantis as the “Stop the Wake Act.”

In one case, the companies argued that the law interfered with their ability to discuss issues such as racism and implicit bias with employees. Government officials described the law as preventing “indoctrination”.

Jim Turner reports for the News Service of Florida.

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