Congressional Republicans are launching the 118th Congress with a series of bills targeting the politicization of big business.
GOP members view ESG investing and major firms partnering with the federal government as part of the same problem. From bureaucrats pushing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing to companies themselves entering the political arena, officials in both chambers are pledging legislation and investigations. In some cases, they are even supporting a Biden administration antitrust lawsuit that could break up Meta.
“There’s a whole movement to bring this woke ideology everywhere,” freshman Missouri Sen. Eric Schmitt told the Daily Caller. “It’s nuts. And I think you just need people speaking out and being willing to take action.” (RELATED: ‘It’s A Scam’: House Republicans Prepare Next Salvo In War On Woke Capital)
As state Attorney General, Schmitt signed on to lawsuits targeting Twitter, Facebook and the financial ratings firm Morningstar. He also launched a probe into a group of banks that promised to issue loans with the goal of reducing worldwide carbon emissions. Discovery and testimony in the big tech lawsuits revealed that federal agents regularly contacted social media companies with a list of accounts labeled as spreading disinformation. Many of those accounts were later removed by the social media companies.
“It ought to scare everybody in this country, regardless of whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, that the government is that involved in censoring speech,” Schmitt said, citing social media’s “censoring Americans and censoring conservatives” as his rationale for supporting a Justice Department lawsuit that would break up Meta. “I think we need to bust up big tech, no doubt about it.”
While not all Republicans agree with the need for antitrust enforcement, they do concur that politicized tech companies threaten the free exchange of ideas.
“Whenever you’ve got too much concentration in anything, even something amorphous like information, you’ve got to be careful. That generally ends up in bad behavior because you have no one keeping you honest,” Republican Indiana Sen. Mike Braun told the Daily Caller. “Whenever any entity starts pushing a certain political point of view we’ve got to be careful.”
Braun recently introduced legislation would overturn a Biden administration rule allowing retirement plan fiduciaries to consider ESG factors when making investments. Before the rule, instituted in November, fiduciaries could only consider financial factors. Twenty-five states filed a lawsuit against the Department of Labor challenging the rule on Jan. 26.
In an interview, Braun noted studies showing that funds that consider ESG factors have worse rates of return than those that do not. The institutional asset management firm BlackRock, which famously pivoted to ESG, lost $1.7 trillion over the first half of 2022, more than any other firm over the time period.
“Until they show they can get better returns, they shouldn’t be talking about it in the first place. It’s a slippery slope where you start involving ideology and political points of view into return on investment,” Braun said.
Current and former Biden administration officials previously worked for companies that employ ESG investment principles. Outgoing National Economic Council chairman Brian Deese was the head of sustainable investing at BlackRock, and Treasury Department chief of staff Didem Nisanci led climate disclosure task force at the Financial Stability Board.
Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Gary Gensler is considering revising a proposed rule regulating climate disclosures companies must issue, Politico reported. The rule, announced in March 2022, would require publicly-traded companies to speculate about how future climate events could impact their business models. Republicans uniformly oppose the rule and several outside organizations have pledged lawsuits if the SEC goes forward in implementing it. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: SEC Unveils Weeping Climate Requirements For Public Companies)
Florida Rep. Byron Donalds, who worked as a financial advisor at Wells Fargo before entering politics, explained that ESG principles were first implemented in exchange-traded funds like BlackRock and Vanguard, and pension plans. House Financial Services Committee chairman Patrick McHenry of North Carolina appointed Donalds to the committee’s ESG working group, which will conduct investigations and propose legislation.
“It was having an impact on markets,” Donalds told the Daily Caller. “There shouldn’t be the government or any group of people setting arbitrary standards on being a good citizen. That’s essentially what ESG is. These arbitrary standards are just that, arbitrary. They will change based on the whims of popular thought. You can’t build a financial system on that.”
Green financial planning has already harmed economies in several developing countries. Protests broke out in Sri Lanka in summer 2022 over rising food prices after the country’s government banned synthetic fertilizer. South Africans are currently facing rolling blackouts amid the country’s attempt to wean itself off of coal power and pivot towards renewables.
Schmitt warned of similar consequences if banks and other major corporations choke out carbon-based fuels.
“Some of the biggest financial institutions in the U.S. want to have a ‘carbon neutral’ portfolio by 2050. The reality of that means energy prices go up. That means that farmers may not get loans because they have diesel trucks on their property. This stuff is nuts,” he said.