Meet the group sharpening the GOP attack on ‘woke’ climate policies – The Washington Post

by | Jan 30, 2023 | Climate Change

Comment on this storyCommentGift ArticleBankrolled by mysterious donors, a little-known group named Consumers’ Research has emerged as a key player in the conservative crusade to prevent Wall Street from factoring climate change into its investment decisions.On Dec. 1, the group joined 13 state attorneys general in calling for a federal regulatory agency to investigate Vanguard, one of the world’s three biggest financial asset managers. Consumers’ Research accused Vanguard of “meddling with [the] energy industry to achieve progressive political goals at the expense of market efficiency.”Within days, Vanguard announced it was quitting a coalition called the Net Zero Asset Managers Alliance and shelved its own modest pledges to cut the amount of greenhouse gas emissions linked to companies in which it invests. Leaders of Consumers’ Research were surprised — and elated.Advertisement“I knew we had found something important,” said Will Hild, who became executive director of the organization in March 2020, just as the pandemic hit. “But I didn’t know Vanguard would just capitulate.”Vanguard didn’t put it that way. In a statement, it affirmed its commitment to “helping our investors navigate the risks that climate change can pose to their long-term returns,” despite leaving the business coalition.Even so, Hild’s group and other opponents of “woke capitalism” are feeling emboldened now that Republicans control the House of Representatives. They see themselves as part of a political alliance that can scrutinize and possibly derail the environmental, social and governance — or ESG — goals of corporations and the Biden administration.Some big Wall Street firms — most notably BlackRock, State Street, Vanguard and Fidelity Investments — have publicly embraced sustainable investing, partly because of investor demands and pressure on businesses to speed up climate measures.But Republicans have promised to reverse what Rep. Garland “Andy” Barr (R) called a “cancer on our capital markets.” In mid-December, Barr and Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) introduced legislation to nullify a Labor Department regulation that allows ESG strategies to be used in retirement plans. In addition, Barr and Rep. Bill Huizenga, (R-Mich.) hope to revive legislation they introduced in December that would block the Securities and Exchange Commission from requiring publicly traded companies to disclose their climate risk.Consumers’ Research is one of several dark-money groups — nonprofits that seek to influence policy without disclosing their donors — that hope to derail the sustainable investments push. They often work in tandem with various GOP-led organizations, including the State Financial Officers Foundation, whose top donor is Consumers’ Research, according to Hild.These 6 GOP leaders will shift Congress on climateThese activists hope that House leaders will haul corporate executives before Congress to defend their ESG practices. The hearings will examine how many financial asset managers have used their large shareholdings to pressure other companies to curtail greenhouse gas emissions, improve sustainability or bolster corporate governance.AdvertisementThe Center for Political Accountability’s president, Bruce Freed, whose nonprofit advocates for corporate transparency, said the goal of such groups is obvious — to pressure CEOs into submission. “There’s a climate of intimidation that companies are facing today,” he said.Some companies are proving to be easier to pressure than others. Vanguard, which has roughly $7 trillion under management, has long been leery of making environmental commitments. Its most recent pledge to remove carbon emissions was a fraction the size of BlackRock’s. When it exited the Net Zero Asset Managers Alliance, the firm said that such agreements can be constructive but can “also result in confusion about the views of individual investment firms. That has been the case in this instance.”Republicans threaten Wall Street over climate positionsWith a name that belies its turn to the right, Consumers’ Research was founded in 1929 by Frederick J. Schlink and Arthur Kallet — co-authors of “100,000,000 Guinea Pigs,” an exposé of food and drug risks at the time. The group became the nation’s first independent organization to test and report on consumer products. A labor dispute led to t …

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