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Exclusive: Center-right enters the ESG fray

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Jan 18, 2024
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Some conservatives want Congress to stop politicizing ESG.

Driving the news: A coalition of center-right and free-market groups sent a letter to Financial Services Committee leaders Thursday arguing that legislators shouldn't "pass more bans or mandates targeting the investment decisions of individuals, pension funds, or businesses."

Why it matters: The letter, shared exclusively with Axios, is an attempt to cool off the Hill conversation around ESG investing. Using it as a political bludgeon, they warn, will ultimately hurt taxpayers and public pension funds.

Zoom in: The letter lays out a set of principles that include protecting pension funds from "politicization" and allowing businesses "to voluntarily adopt sustainable practices or address the social considerations of their workforce free from government mandates."

  • Former Rep. Carlos Curbelo signed the letter, alongside Nick Loris of C3 Solutions, Devin Hartman of R Street and Pete Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union, among others.

Our thought bubble: These folks have some bona fides with what's left of the GOP's centrist wing on the Hill.

  • They're taking a rare middle ground amid a barrage of anti-ESG messaging from well-monied conservative groups.
  • They oppose both the SEC's proposed climate reporting requirements and the GOP ESG backlash that led states to ban environmental investing considerations and stop doing business with major asset managers.
  • "Democrats believed that they could somehow shape various social policies by directing federal, state and even local money into causes in which they believed," Sepp told Axios.
  • "Republicans ran with that playbook, came up with their own reasons for divesting or investing or directing or mandating, and suddenly, this whole playing field has become contaminated."

What we're watching: Financial Services Chair Patrick McHenry has a slate of anti-ESG bills, but they haven't seen floor action.

  • Not all of those are necessarily objectionable for the groups on the letter, and Loris said Republicans have thus far "largely been supportive" of their concerns.
  • "I even think you saw a bit of a tone shift within the last couple of months, as the heat around ESG died down a little bit," he told Axios.
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