Republican senators sent letters to 51 law firms across the country warning that investments in Wall Street companies that push liberal issues such as climate change and diversity could run afoul of antitrust laws.
The move by the GOP lawmakers signals that they will make the battle over “woke capitalism” a key initiative if they regain control of Congress in next week’s midterms.
The letters, sent Friday, indicate that GOP lawmakers are eager to haul lawyers, chief executives and government officials before Congress and make them explain why America’s investments should be funneled toward environmental, social and governance, or ESG, causes.
“Over the coming months and years, Congress will increasingly use its oversight powers to scrutinize the institutionalized antitrust violations in the name of ESG, and refer those violations to the FTC and the Department of Justice,” the letter said. “To the extent that your firm continues to advise clients regarding participation in ESG initiatives, both you and those clients should take care to preserve relevant documents in anticipation of those investigations.”
GOP lawmakers say ESG initiatives are a coordinated effort by money managers to invest Americans’ retirement funds, 401(k)s and pension plans in companies that advance far-left policy goals.
That means a retirement plan manager must give as much weight to a fund’s support of liberal causes, such as donating to Black Lives Matter or building wind turbines, as they do financial returns.
Republicans say that violates antitrust laws because asset managers are collaborating to shift investments toward ESG companies, thus making it difficult for oil and gas companies to raise capital. Ultimately they say, that will lead to less production and increased costs.
“The ESG movement attempts to weaponize corporations to reshape society in ways that Americans would never endorse at the ballot box,” the lawmakers wrote. “Of particular concern is the effort to restrict the supply of coal, oil, and gas, which is driving up energy costs across the globe and empowering America’s adversaries abroad.”
Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Mike Lee of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida signed the letter.
Republicans also have targeted ESG at the state level. Republican-led states have removed more than $1.5 billion in investment funds from BlackRock over concerns that the asset manager is prioritizing investments in climate initiatives while discouraging investment in fossil fuels.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed a bill this year that banned the state from investing in businesses that cut ties with the oil and gas industry.
The Biden administration last year quietly proposed a rule that would make it easier for asset managers to prioritize ESGs over other investment options.
Under the Labor Department rule proposal, asset managers would have to give as much weight to a fund’s support of liberal causes as they do financial returns for investors.
Asset managers could enroll workers in ESG funds as a default if the employee does not select an investment option. Workers could unknowingly be supporting causes that don’t align with their political views.
If approved, the rule could affect roughly 150 million workers and $10 trillion in assets covered under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.
Critics say the rule would harm Americans’ retirement savings by letting asset managers sacrifice financial returns to promote liberal policy objectives.
Democrats said the proposed rule gives workers the freedom to support social causes and that financially beneficial investments can also promote racial justice and combat climate change.