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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

How much power do shareholders have over companies? Judging by Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi's comments to "Axios on HBO" this week, it must be quite a lot.

Catch up quick: Khosrowshahi praised Yasir Al-Rumayyan, who sits on Uber's board and is a close friend of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. "He's been a very constructive board member," Khosrowshahi said, "and I personally have valued his input greatly."

  • When Axios' Dan Primack pointed out that Al-Rumayyan represents the government that murdered Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, Khosrowshahi's first instinct was to play down the enormity of the crime. "I think that government — said that they made a mistake," he said, before later clarifying that "there's no forgiving or forgetting what happened."

The big picture: Enormous shareholders like Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock, are regularly imbued with awe-inspiring powers. Fink is "one of the most influential investors in the world," per NYT's Andrew Ross Sorkin, wielding "clout" and "outsize influence."

  • Protestors at the reopening of the Museum of Modern Art last month targeted Fink in particular, saying that because BlackRock owns shares in private prison companies, he was not doing enough to "get rid of mass incarceration."
  • Fink would seem to be a juicier target even than MoMA chairman Leon Black, who runs a multibillion-dollar private equity firm and who gave $10 million to Jeffrey Epstein's personal charitable foundation.

Reality check: Fink in reality has very little clout. Most of the money that he manages is in index funds, which means he has no discretion as to where to put it. If a private prison company is in an investable index, then BlackRock is going to be one of its shareholders.

  • Fink has some discretion over which companies are included in his environmentally conscious fund. Yet even that fund invests in massive polluters like ExxonMobil.
  • Even if Fink divested entirely from such fossil fuel and private prison companies, that would make no difference to their business model or their profitability.

Driving the news: Just about the only real power Fink has comes from his ability to vote his shares to nudge companies in a more ethical direction. But a Reuters analysis of his voting record shows that he doesn't even do that.

  • By the numbers: BlackRock backed only 10% of climate-related shareholder resolutions in 2018.

The bottom line: Activist hedge funds can strike fear into the heart of CEOs, as can countries using their sovereign wealth funds to achieve geopolitical ends. But those skills seem to elude individuals, social activists, and even multitrillion-dollar investors like Fink.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Woman who allegedly stole laptop from Pelosi's office to sell to Russia is arrested

Photo: FBI

A woman accused of breaching the Capitol and planning to sell to Russia a laptop or hard drive she allegedly stole from Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office was arrested in Pennsylvania's Middle District Monday, the Department of Justice said.

Driving the news: Riley June Williams, 22, is charged with illegally entering the Capitol as well as violent entry and disorderly conduct. She has not been charged over the laptop allegation and the case remains under investigation, per the DOJ.

Biden will reverse Trump's attempt to lift COVID-related travel restrictions

Photo: Tasos Katopodis via Getty

The incoming Biden administration will reverse President Trump's last-minute order to lift COVID-19 related travel restrictions, Jen Psaki, the incoming White House press secretary, tweeted.

Why it matters: President Trump ordered entry bans lifted for travelers from the U.K., Ireland, Brazil and much of Europe to go into effect Jan. 26, but the Biden administration will "strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19," Jen Psaki said. Biden will be inaugurated on Wednesday, Jan. 20 and Trump will no longer be president by the time the order is set to go into effect.

Dominion sends cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell

Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Dominion Voting Systems on Monday sent a cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell over his spread of misinformation related to the 2020 election.

Why it matters: Trump and several of his allies have pushed false conspiracy theories about the company, leading Dominion to take legal action. It's suing pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell for defamation and $1.3 billion in damages, and a Dominion employee has sued Trump himself, OANN and Newsmax.