For a group so enraged by identity politics, Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, is confounded as to why the GOP supermajority continues to put forth bills that, to him and this board, are counter to its free-market roots.
House Bill 1008 attempts to tie the hands of the state’s retirement and pension investment managers by forcing them not to work with money managers involved in environmental-, social- and government-focused investing, also known as ESG. It’s a term used as a “framework that helps stakeholders understand how an organization is managing risks and opportunities related to environmental, social, and governance,” according to the Corporate Finance Institute.
The bill received its first reading on Jan. 12 then was referred to the Committee on Financial Institutions.
“For all the fuss in the legislature about identity, I submit the Republican Party is having an identity crisis,” DeLaney told The Journal Gazette Tuesday. “I don’t think they know who they are. They’re supposed to be strong backers of the free market, not squashers of it.”
HB 1008’s focus, DeLaney said, is the assumption that the state investment managers and advisers don’t understand their fiduciary responsibility.
“That’s their obligation!” he said. “They’ve been doing it for decades, and they don’t need legislation to tell them how to do it.”
Although this kind of investing is gaining headlines now, the phenomenon has been around for a while. In the 1970s and ’80s, anti-apartheid activists called for institutions such as university endowments and pension funds to disinvest in South Africa to isolate the country economically. The divestment strategy was derided by free-market advocates who believed doing so negated “constructive engagement” and shareholder value.
Large asset managers such as BlackRock and Vanguard are being attacked for using their power for constructive engagement and shareholder value, particularly in reducing fossil fuels. Conservatives call it “greenwashing,” which they consider being ideological. But, considering the planet’s peril, we’d like to think it’s responsible and practical.
And the anti-ESG legislation could prove costly. For example, following Texas’ passage of its anti-ESG legislation, economists from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and the Federal Reserve said it cost Texans as much as $532 million in the first eight months.
From a fiduciary standpoint, that sounds rather irresponsible. This is a path Hoosiers, who identify with thrift and intelligence, don’t need to follow.