Proposed legislation would eliminate ESG in TSP pensions

Economy and Society is Ballotpedia’s weekly review of the developments in corporate activism; corporate political engagement; and the Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) trends and events that characterize the growing intersection between business and politics.

ESG developments this week

In Washington, D.C.

Congressman introduces legislation that would eliminate ESG in TSP pensions

Congressman Chip Roy (R-Texas) on May 23 reintroduced legislation calling for the elimination of the use of ESG in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), the pension plan for federal employees and members of the military. The private managers of the TSP are BlackRock and State Street, two of the largest passive asset managers and among the biggest advocates of ESG.

On Tuesday, Representative Chip Roy (R-TX) led 17 of his Republican colleagues in re-introducing the “No ESG at TSP Act,” legislation that seeks to prevent the federal Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) from allowing taxpayer dollars to flow into Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) funds.

In a press release announcing the bill’s reintroduction, Roy said “ESG investing poses a dangerous threat to the free flow of capital,” and that the movement is actively threatening domestic energy supply, empowering activist shareholders, and advancing woke gender and racial ideologies.

“ESG is an investing scheme woke corporations are using to appease the Left by destroying reliable American energy and advancing radical gender and racial ideologies,” Roy said. “Last year, the Thrift Savings Plan began allowing federal employees to invest their taxpayer funded salaries into ESG plans. The U.S. Government has no business propping up woke scams like ESG. Congress should eradicate every federal policy and office that promotes it, starting here.”

The “No ESG at TSP Act” would prohibit TSP from allowing federal employees to invest their taxpayer-funded salaries into funds that make “biased investment decisions” based on ESG criteria, according to the release.

TSP currently manages about $817 billion in total assets, making it the largest defined contribution plan in the world. The vast majority of TSP contributions stem from withholdings from federal or servicemember paychecks and their respective agency matches. That means TSP is effectively allowing billions of taxpayer dollars to be used for ESG investing, the press release said, and the “No ESG at TSP Act” would stop this….

The new bill’s cosponsors include Dan Bishop (R-NC), Troy E. Nehls (R-TX), Brian Babinn (R-TX), Byron Donalds (R-FL), Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), Scott Perry (R-PA), Bob Good (R-VA), Michael Cloud (R-TX), Buddy Carter (R-GA), Andy Ogles (R-TN), Matt Rosendale (R-MT), Randy Weber (R-TX), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Keith Self (R-TX), Glenn Grothman (R-WI), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), and Josh Brecheen (R-OK).

In the states

Net-Zero Insurance Alliance suffers membership losses following state pressure

The Net-Zero Insurance Alliance, a global organization comprised of insurance companies that have agreed to promote ESG climate policies, continues to lose members after 23 state attorneys general sent letters earlier this month warning insurance companies that participation in the alliance potentially constitutes illegal collusive behavior under antitrust laws:

A United Nations-convened climate alliance for insurers suffered at least three more departures on Thursday including the group’s chair, as insurance companies take fright in the face of opposition from U.S. Republican politicians.

At least seven members of the Net-Zero Insurance Alliance (NZIA), which launched in 2021, have now left including five of the eight founding signatories.

Departures on Thursday included AXA , whose Group Chief Risk Officer Renaud Guidée had chaired the alliance. The French insurer said in a statement it was leaving to “continue its individual sustainability journey.” Germany’s Allianz (ALVG.DE) and French reinsurer SCOR (SCOR.PA) also quit.

NZIA, part of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero set up by U.N. climate envoy Mark Carney, requires members to commit to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

The group has been buffeted by growing political opposition from some Republicans in the United States, who say the group could be violating antitrust laws by working together to reduce clients’ carbon emissions.

This month 23 U.S. state attorneys general told NZIA members that the group’s targets and requirements appeared to violate both federal and state antitrust laws.

They gave insurers a month to respond in a May 15 letter – the latest salvo from the Republicans against financial institutions factoring environmental, social and governance-related (ESG) factors into their decision making.

Harvard essay argues for end to state ESG support and opposition

Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance published an essay on May 29 written by Eli Lehrer (the founder the R Street Institute) and Robert Eccles (a visiting professor of finance at Oxford), arguing for a truce on state ESG policy. They argued policies promoting and opposing ESG were both costly and counterproductive:

Over the past year, the debate over Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) standards in the United States has revealed stark policy contrasts between red and blue states. Red state officials have proposed and enacted “anti-boycott” bills which bar state business with firms that divest from favored industries. Blue states, on the other hand, have widely considered efforts to mandate divestments from the same industries. Neither approach makes economic sense. Recognizing this creates a real opportunity for a truce, based on fiduciary duty and the separation of political issues from investment decisions.

And we need a truce because the pace of legislation about ESG is only accelerating. Data collected by the law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett shows that at least 28 policies and laws have taken effect since 2021 alone and, as of the spring of 2023, there are at least 13 pending bills related to ESG. This doesn’t count the enormous number of existing policies–everything from preferences for small businesses to laws against investing state funds with companies that operate in certain countries–that would fall under the ESG umbrella if proposed today. While the stated financial protection and future-proofing objectives behind these proposals are worth consideration, they are bad policies likely to fail on their own terms while doing significant fiscal damage.

Let’s start with the red-state boycott ban bills which are typically directed at investment firms that limit firearms or fossil fuel investments. These bans represent an unwise ceding of legislative power that will cost states billions….

While anti-boycott bills are too new for anyone to have long-term evidence of their impacts,  there is little question that their mirror image–mandatory divestment policies–have negative fiscal consequences and fail to produce their desired outcomes. As such, a Maine law that requires the state pension funds to end fossil fuel investments–typical of proposals floating around in several blue states–seems almost certain to have roughly the same impact as past divestment policies targeting narrower classes of firms. Analysis conducted by California’s giant CalPERS and CalSTRS pension funds both show billions in dollars of losses resulting from that states’ existing divestment policies. Even worse for supporters of divestment efforts, the best evidence seems to indicate that they are actually counterproductive….

But even though most  pro- and anti-state level ESG policies don’t work as advertised, it’s unwise to dismiss the rationale behind them out of hand. State employees–who, ideally, will represent the full spectrum of a state’s views–shouldn’t have their pension funds invested in ways that place what may be political views above return on investments….

On the other hand, any number of ESG-related considerations can have strong connections to investment return….

This brings us to a proposed solution that both the  left and right should be able to agree upon: clear fiduciary duty laws that define who is responsible for state investment, allow them to consider ESG factors only when they contribute to economic value creation and assure that state employees in defined contribution plans can select non-ESG options.

Alabama AG criticizes ESG supporters who claim to promote free markets

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) took to the pages of The Wall Street Journal on May 23 to condemn congressional ESG supporters for calling themselves free market advocates:

Proponents of ESG—environmental, social and governance—investing are posing as champions of the free market. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and I testified earlier this month before the House Oversight Committee regarding our continuing investigations into several global financial alliances that aim to impose ESG policies on American businesses and consumers in defiance of our free-market economy.

Minutes into the hearing, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D., Md.) claimed that my colleagues and I were “assaulting the free market” and attempting to “stop the market from responding to the climate crisis.” Rep. Katie Porter (D., Calif.) continued the gaslighting, noting that “capitalism delivers freedom,” which “happens when markets let people choose what they want.”

As Mr. Raskin and Ms. Porter surely know, the free market has resisted onerous ESG mandates. That’s why sectorwide financial alliances have emerged to restrict the market’s functioning and stymie consumer choice.

A company’s affinity for ESG ideology is its prerogative. Likewise, it is the consumer’s choice to reward a company’s social messages with continued business. Such corporate stances are often nothing more than virtue signaling. This can often be a costly decision, as Anheuser-Busch is learning in the wake of Bud Light’s partnership with transgender activist Dylan Mulvaney.

The more sinister ESG acolytes, however, aren’t merely printing woke messages on six-packs. America’s self-proclaimed “socially responsible” financial institutions, which should be competing in the free market, are instead joining forces with one another and their global counterparts to decide which companies—and, in some cases, which industries—should be permitted to continue their market participation unimpeded.

Since 2017, a growing number of these financial alliances, including Climate Action 100+, the Net-Zero Banking Alliance and the Venture Climate Alliance, have plotted to pressure blacklisted companies into making a priority of decarbonization and other social goals at the behest of the United Nations, not American consumers. In other words, by controlling trillions of dollars in assets, these groups intend to corner the market through potentially illegal horizontal agreements and force preferred social and political objectives on American companies and consumers.

The Net Zero Asset Managers initiative boasts 301 signatories and $59 trillion in assets under management. On its website, the group writes: “Our industry’s ability to drive the transition to net zero is extremely powerful. Without our industry on board, the goals set out in the Paris Agreement will be difficult to meet.”

This statement doesn’t refer to a company making a business choice because of consumer demand or shareholder interest. Rather, it reveals a coalition of major financial-industry players that have come together to choke out certain disfavored companies and industries by limiting their access to capital and then pointing to this manufactured obstruction as evidence that these firms are a bad investment. The resulting harm to the working public—of little interest to global elites—is higher energy costs and fewer options across a variety of markets, including automobiles, appliances and food production.

In the spotlight

Forbes contributor says Target and Bud Light may have had ESG motivations behind LGBTQ campaigns and partnerships

Forbes contributor Jon McGowan–an attorney with a background in ESG–suggested last week that Target’s LGBTQ Pride Month campaign, which has been a topic of conversation and disagreement, may have been influenced by ESG scoring metrics. He said the same about the Bud Light partnership with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney:      

Target is the latest corporation to face backlash for LGBTQ+ pride merchandise, in what is becoming known as “Bud Lighting.” With ESG becoming a divisive political issue, there is a natural tendency by some to blame everything inclusive on ESG. However, this is not without merit. Diversity and inclusion are key issues in ESG, and it is worth looking at corporate documents to see if there is a connection….

In the ESG debate, most focus on the environmental aspect. Measuring sustainability programs and environmentally friendly actions taken by a company. However, the social aspect is the major source of controversy for the right. Diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI, programs; policies which target specific industries; and policies tied to political stances are often factors in ESG. Companies may implement programs and internal policies to bolster their ESG Reports. Recently, the focus of controversy has been on outward facing LGBTQ+ polices supporting and promoting the transgender community.

Budweiser was one of the first to face serious backlash after releasing a limited run Bud Light can featuring transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney. Conservatives were outraged, and the company faced a significant loss in business. There is reason to believe that Anheuser-Busch InBev, the parent company of Budweiser, took the action as part of a marketing campaign meant to bolster their ESG scores….

Looking at Target’s 2022 ESG Report, the company boasts a 100% score by the Corporate Equality Index put out by The Human Rights Campaign. CEI is 40% based on outward facing LQBTQ policies, and a company can face an additional 25% penalty for actions which do not support the LGBTQ cause. Their high score shows a very LGBTQ friendly company. Additionally, they were ranked #4 in DiversityInc’s 2022 Top Companies for LGBTQ Employees….

If Target was considering ESG in marketing decisions relating to LGBTQ+ merchandise, it was probably to maintain their already high scores. However, their choice to change course and remove some of the Pride merchandise will have the opposite effect.