In his attempts to be the most anti-woke candidate in the GOP presidential primaries, Vivek Ramaswamy has saved his sharpest attacks for the big three asset management firms: Vanguard, State Street, and BlackRock.
Calling them “the most powerful cartel in human history,” he lambastes them for pushing a “woke” leftist agenda that prioritizes sustainable investing, social justice, and racial equity in their business and investment practices. The largest investments made by these three asset managers are in Exchange Traded Funds (or ETFs), which include a bundle of stocks in a market index such as the S&P 500 or S&P 1000.
For Ramaswamy the irony is that his company, Strive Asset Management, manages ETFs that include BlackRock. Before announcing his bid for the GOP presidential nomination, he cofounded the Ohio-based asset management firm to cash in on the Right’s anti-woke crusade. With Strive, he specifically aimed to challenge the dominance of the “big three” and take aim at their pledge to weigh environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors, along with issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), in making investment decisions, as the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) reported.
Ramaswamy resigned his position as executive chairman of Strive to focus on his presidential run, but he still owns 50–75% of the firm’s shares, according to a June 15 SEC filing. Strive owns 1,470 BlackRock shares — valued at roughly $1 million — in three of its funds: Strive 1000 Growth, Strive 1000 Value, and Strive 1000 Dividend Growth. Since it is a “passive” fund, it cannot eliminate BlackRock and still mirror the market.
Together, BlackRock, State Street, and Vanguard hold $24 trillion in assets. BlackRock also trades as a stock on the New York Stock Exchange.
Ramaswamy’s own conflict of interest in attacking BlackRock shows just how difficult it is for public pension managers to avoid ESG investments if they own any ETFs — as do most pension funds — since they represent the most significant stocks bought and sold on the market every day.
Last month, the board of the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) voted to take a fiduciary exemption permitted under the state’s Energy Discrimination Elimination Act of 2022, which was designed to protect the fossil fuel industry from boycott and divestment efforts.
Previously, Oklahoma Treasurer Todd Russ (R) — a member of the State Financial Officers Foundation (SFOF) who has played an integral role in manufacturing a crisis around ESG investing and “woke” capitalism — had placed the two asset management firms on a blacklist required by the law. But the exemption allows OPERS to retain investments in BlackRock and State Street.
“The board determined that compliance with the divestment and contractual prohibitions of the Oklahoma Energy Discrimination Elimination Act would be inconsistent with its fiduciary responsibility,” noted Joseph Fox, executive director of PERS, in an email to Pensions & Investments.
In a “fiscal impact statement” made in February, the Indiana Legislative Services Agency reported that enacting “proposed legislation to limit the use of sustainable investment factors by fund managers of the U.S. state of Indiana could cut $6.7 billion from the investment returns of a public pension system there over a decade.”
Indiana did not pass its own version of the Energy Discrimination Elimination Act, but it did pass a bill that prevents managers of the state’s public pension funds from considering ESG factors in their investment decisions.
Correction: This piece originally stated that BlackRock owns State Street, which is incorrect.
David Armiak contributed research to this report.