One in every four members of the State Financial Officers Foundation (SFOF)—the group of Republican state treasurers, auditors, and other financial officers on the frontlines of the campaign against “woke capitalism”—has been a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), according to the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD).
Research completed by CMD as part of its SFOF Exposed project revealed that 10 current members of SFOF were previously active in ALEC, the pay-to-play operation in which state legislators and corporate lobbyists meet behind closed doors to write model legislation that advances a radical right-wing, pro-corporate, and pro-Republican agenda on everything from suppressing voter access and denying climate change to crushing unions and undermining public education.
Two SFOF members, Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis and Kentucky State Auditor Mike Harmon, served as ALEC state chairs when they were local lawmakers. Four others—Nebraska Treasurer and 2022 SFOF National Chair John Murante, Missouri State Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar, and Wyoming State Treasurer Curt Meier—were all involved in ALEC during their tenures in their respective state legislatures.
In addition, another four current SFOF members—Louisiana State Treasurer and SFOF National Chair John Schroder, Arizona State Treasurer Kimberly Yee, North Carolina State Treasurer Dale Folwell, and Oklahoma State Treasurer Todd Russ—served on ALEC’s Tax and Fiscal Policy task force during their respective terms in office as state legislators. Russ, who is serving his first term as treasurer after being elected last November, was a member of the task force when it voted to approve the deceptively named State Government Employee Retirement Protection Act at an extraordinary meeting last spring.
The model bill, which was further amended at ALEC’s 2022 annual meeting, prohibits anyone managing state, local, or university public pensions from considering environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors such as the climate emergency, inequities in hiring or employment, or other business practices that impact society when making decisions about pension fund investments.
Despite professing to be a nonpartisan nonprofit, SFOF and its 35 members nationwide have come to the fore as key actors in the far-right crusade to sabotage any coordinated corporate or governmental efforts to address the climate emergency, curtail gun violence, push for social justice, or do anything else they derisively label as “woke.” The most visible plank of this fight has taken the form of pressuring lawmakers to oppose sustainable investment approaches through model legislation like ALEC’s above-mentioned bill targeting public pensions, its Energy Discrimination Elimination Act, and its Eliminate Political Boycotts Act (which blacklists “woke” companies).
In less than three months this year, state lawmakers in 32 states have introduced close to 160 anti-ESG bills. Thanks to ALEC-tied legislative sponsors, four of these have already been signed into law in Utah, according to CMD’s research.
Republicans are reported to be adopting anti-ESG messaging as a core component of their 2024 campaign strategy, something Murante foresaw last summer when he said, “I really think ESG is going to be the [critical race theory] of 2023 and 2024.”
SFOF Ties to ALEC Run Deeper Still
CMD first exposed SFOF and its deep ties to ALEC in February 2022, noting that ALEC CEO Lisa Nelson is on the group’s board of directors and that ALEC Chief Economist and Executive Vice President of Policy Jonathan Williams is a senior policy advisor who sits on SFOF’s National Advisory Committee.
In this capacity, Williams provides legislative updates to SFOF’s policy committee and promotes anti-ESG model legislation to SFOF members, emails obtained by CMD indicate. He also collaborated with SFOF CEO Derek Kreifels and Heritage Foundation Visiting Fellow Andy Puzder in drafting ALEC’s State Government Employee Retirement Protection Act.
Earlier this year, ALEC expanded its private sector board of directors—or what it calls its “Private Enterprise Advisory Council”—to include operatives in the right-wing’s fight against ESG that are active in SFOF, namely: Mike Thompson, a senior vice president at CRC Advisors, and Paul Fitzpatrick, president of 1792 Exchange
Fitzpatrick is also an SFOF board member and Thompson’s public relations firm is deeply involved in manufacturing and sustaining the ESG crisis and messaging for SFOF and its allies, including Consumers’ Research, the Foundation for Government Accountability, Heritage Action for America, and the Republican Attorneys General Association.
ALEC’s symbiotic ties to SFOF became clear in July 2021 when the two organizations held meetings in conjunction with each other in Salt Lake City.
It was at those shared meetings in 2021 that ALEC introduced its first anti-ESG model bill: the Energy Discrimination Elimination Act, CMD first reported. In a closed-door meeting of its Tax and Fiscal Policy task force, ALEC and SFOF members heard a discussion moderated by Williams that included Folwell from North Carolina, Louisiana State Treasurer John Schroder, and West Virginia State Treasurer Riley Moore.
ALEC again promoted SFOF’s work at its December 2022 States and Nation Policy Summit. Consumers’ Research Executive Director Will Hild joined SFOF members Patronis and Utah State Treasurer Marlo Oaks in speaking about “ESG Initiatives” at the summit’s opening breakfast meeting.
Following that ESG discussion, ALEC held a “How States Fight Back Against ESGs” workshop for members featuring Hild, Heritage Action Executive Director Jessica Anderson, and Puzder, who compared the current fight against ESG to World War II-era efforts to eradicate Nazism and communism, CMD first reported.
Later at the meeting, ALEC’s task forces on Energy, Environment, and Agriculture and Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development voted to adopt the model Eliminate Political Boycotts Act, CMD reported. The model policy bars companies with 10 or more employees from receiving state contracts if they take into account any “social, political, or ideological interests” to limit their commercial relations with fossil fuel, logging, mining, or agriculture businesses—and instructs legislatures to “insert additional industries if needed.”
SFOF joined its allies the Texas Public Policy Foundation, The Heartland Institute, the Independent Women’s Forum, Heritage Action, America First Works, the Foundation for Government Accountability, and Consumers’ Research in supporting passage of the model legislation.