DeSantis's defeat is a warning to all: Don't go up against ESG

Politics DeSantis 011724 AP Michael Dwyer

Last weekend, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) ended his bid for the presidency. Following Vivek Ramaswamy’s withdrawal after the Iowa caucuses, the decision clears the field of candidates who have made attacks upon responsible investing — also known as environmental, social and governance, or ESG investing — a cornerstone of their campaigns. 

Before their campaigns fizzled, the pair successfully solicited attention for their bullish stances against American businesses. DeSantis described corporations as the “woke mob” and falsely blamed high insurance costs on ESG policies. Ramaswamy, whose initial campaign slogan was “Stop Wokeism. Vote Vivek,” dangerously compared financial companies like BlackRock, State Street and Vanguard to cartels. 

But the fates of Desantis and Ramaswamy should come as no surprise. Poll after poll has shown that attacks against responsible investing are political losers. Across party lines, Americans overwhelmingly support corporations’ efforts to invest responsibly, and 70 percent of Republicans oppose government interference on this. 

Eight in 10 Americans say they trust companies more than politicians when deciding whether they agree with a company’s stance on an issue. This disrespect for the public’s support for responsible investing contributed to Desantis and Ramaswamy’s downfall. It should serve as a warning sign for other extreme politicians.

Responsible investing helps our economy and our climate. It keeps America competitive on the global stage. Sustainable funds have comparable, if not better, financial returns, compared to traditional funds with less downside risk. In fact, in 2023, the world’s largest banks made about $3 billion by underwriting bonds and providing loans for green projects, out-earning fossil fuel projects for the second year in a row.

That’s why Fortune 500 CEOs support ESG. A majority say that responsible investing is “good for business,” and that the expect to “open new markets” by focusing on climate change.

On the other side of the issue, projections show that anti-ESG policies could result in the loss of billions of dollars in returns for public pensions across the nation, and will force state and local governments to pay higher interest rates and borrowing costs. 

The divisive, distorted and misleading information against responsible investing does not stop at Desantis and Ramaswamy. The attacks during the presidential race are just one element of a well funded campaign by the oil and gas industries. 

At the state level, 18 GOP-led state legislatures to date have banned corporations from considering ESG policies. In Kansas, it is estimated these bans would result in reduced returns of $3.6 billion over 10 years. Because of a poorly drafted law in Texas, municipal borrowers will pay up to $500 million more in borrowing costs, all while the state’s Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) have received at least $57 million in combined career campaign contributions from the oil and gas industries.

On Capitol Hill, corporate polluters have mobilized their network of federal elected officials, to whom they have given more than $86 million in combined campaign donations over their political careers, to systematically attack the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s proposed climate disclosure requirements. Since then, several bills have been introduced to preemptively limit or prevent the SEC’s ruling, and members of Congress have sent several letters about it. 

Desantis, who has taken at least $2.1 million in campaign cash from corporate polluters, and Ramaswamy, who has millions in personal investment funds tied up in oil, gas and pipeline companies, were attempting to elevate ESG attacks to the national conversation. Their downfall should serve as a warning to others attempting to score political points instead of listening to the American public.  

Kyle Herrig is a spokesperson for Unlocking America’s Future.

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