Utah Gov. Spencer Cox on Tuesday called President Joe Biden’s recent veto of a bill targeting environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors in investments “deeply disappointing,” and a “backdoor” way for the White House to bypass Congress.
It’s the latest public criticism from Cox regarding ESG factors being considered by investors. Utah recently became one of nearly 20 states opposing Biden’s use of ESG in federal retirement funds.
“It affects regular people. Blue collar workers who are planning for their retirement will not have as much money because the fiduciaries don’t have to focus on the returns, they get to focus on these other things,” Cox told the hosts of Fox Business’ “The Big Money Show.”
The bill that Biden vetoed sought to overturn a Department of Labor rule that allows retirement plan fiduciaries to take ESG factors into consideration, as opposed to making decisions solely on returns when investing money saved in pensions and retirement plans.
The veto was blasted by Republicans and the three Democrats who supported it, including West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who said the rule “will weaken our energy, national and economic security, while jeopardizing the hard earned retirement savings of 150 million West Virginians and Americans.”
The underlying principle of ESG is that instead of focusing solely on profit, investors should take other things into consideration, like a company’s environmental impact or perceived social harm.
It’s mostly Republican critics who warn that it could lower investment returns and impact retirement savings, labelling it “woke capitalism.” Utah Sen. Mitt Romney on Monday said “Democrats can’t get their radical policies through Congress, so they hope asset managers will do the work for them.”
That was essentially Cox’s argument Tuesday, telling the Fox Business hosts the rule allows “for riskier investments because of a political ideology.”
“We’ve got to get politics out of everything in our lives. It’s just not healthy. Let’s keep politics in politics, let’s get it out of our banking system, let’s get it out of our retirement account, let’s get it out of our businesses,” Cox said, a common refrain from the governor.
Biden, explaining his veto, said the bill “would risk your retirement savings by making it illegal to consider risk factors MAGA House Republicans don’t like.” Cox said that isn’t true.
“What the president is saying is that fiduciaries, the people who manage the money, the retirement accounts of individuals in this country, don’t have to worry about the returns that’s making money so that you can actually retire, they can focus on these other things,” he told the hosts of Fox Business.
Cox recently signed several ESG-related bills into law, including HB449 which prohibits companies from coordinating “to intentionally destroy certain companies” or industries, according to the bill’s text. He also signed SB96, which would require “a public entity to invest public funds in accordance with the prudent investor rule” and SB97, a companion bill to bar public entities from contracting with companies that “engage in certain boycott actions.”
Those bills “will make that kind of decision making, as it has always been, illegal in the state of Utah,” Cox told the Fox Business hosts Tuesday.
Cox also signed on to a letter alongside the 18 other governors pushing back on Biden’s support of ESG. The other states include Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wyoming.