The Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs has subpoenaed behemoth asset manager BlackRock, along with its affiliates and subsidiaries, for documents pertaining to its environmental, social and governance (ESG) policy.
The committee aims to verify that the firm is prioritizing the performance of investor assets, like those of the state’s pensions. The request comes amid ongoing polarization over ESG investing and numerous high-profile withdrawals of state pension funds from BlackRock’s management.
Proponents of ESG say it promotes social responsibility and helps support laudable initiatives, like reaching climate targets. This contrasts with traditional asset management, which they say focuses on profit maximization.
Opponents of ESG argue the framework has been used to further political causes at the expense of investor returns, sacrificing performance for progressive interests.
News of the subpoena comes shortly after Florida pulled $2 billion in assets from the fund manager. Before that, Missouri announced plans in October to remove $500 million in pension assets from BlackRock’s management. Louisiana, Arkansas, and Utah have also declared their intention to pull $794 million, $125 million, and $100 million, respectively.
In a recent interview, Missouri Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick equated ESG with left-leaning political ideology.
“ESG is just the latest acronym to describe what people want them to believe,” he said. At its core, “it’s really just political advocacy for things that the Democrats cannot get passed through the democratic process, and they’re using your money to do it,” says Fitzpatrick.
Texas, for its part, is now trying to verify that its pension assets are being managed with investor return prioritized.
“The reason the committee is requesting the production of documents is to evaluate the investment practices of a financial services firm with a presence in Texas and how those practices affect the state’s public pensions,” according to the subpoena.
The Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs issued the subpoena in November. The committee chairman, Republican state Sen. Bryan Hughes, says the action is necessary to “uncover” how fund managers, like BlackRock, have been “playing politics using Texans’ hard-earned money.”
In August, the committee sent a letter not only to BlackRock but to other prominent investment firms as well, like Vanguard and State Street. The letter requested that the firms provide documents outlining their ESG policies.
Documents were returned, but some managers provided “more than others,” says Hughes. In particular, BlackRock “refused” to hand over any documents they considered confidential, eventually leading to the current subpoena.
“They have a legal duty to put their investors’ interests first, and we intend to make sure they do,” Hughes stressed.
As of the end of the second quarter of 2022, BlackRock maintained nearly $8.5 trillion in assets under management.