Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in a new book calls for politicians to suppress the influence of “woke capital” and activist corporations, in part by “crippling” the socially conscious investing movement known as ESG.
“Both the legislative and executive branches should use their respective authorities to defend individuals against large corporations that are wielding what is effectively public power,” DeSantis wrote in “The Courage to Be Free,” which published Tuesday.
“Reining in Big Tech, enforcing antitrust laws, prohibiting discriminatory job training, and crippling the ESG movement are all ways in which the political branches can protect individual freedom from stridently ideological private actor,” he wrote.
The ESG concept — which is often vague but broadly refers to investing strategies that prioritize environmental, social and governance factors — has increasingly become a target for conservatives aiming to combat powerful actors in the private sector promoting progressive policies.
DeSantis’ book tears into ESG in multiple chapters, while invoking the politically loaded and nebulous term “woke” nearly four dozen times. DeSantis’ focus on ESG suggests the multitrillion-dollar issue could feature prominently in the Republican presidential primary if the governor launches a 2024 White House bid as he is widely expected to do.
After easily winning a second gubernatorial term last year, DeSantis has divulged little about his much-rumored presidential ambitions. But polls nevertheless show him rivaling former President Donald Trump as a top contender for the GOP nomination.
Trump, the most prominent of the small handful of Republicans who have so far announced presidential bids, last week posted a video torching ESG as “radical-left garbage,” vowing to crack down on it if he was elected again.
In the book’s introduction, DeSantis describes the investing trend as “an attempt to impose ruling class ideology on society through publicly traded companies and asset management.”
DeSantis asserts that ESG marks the culmination of efforts by “the ruling class,” which has been co-opted by “woke” ideological interests, to “achieve through the economy what it could never achieve through the ballot box.”
He later offers examples, arguing that ESG “provides a pretext for CEOs to use shareholder assets to target issues like reducing the use of fossil fuels and restricting Second Amendment rights.”
ESG is one way in which “woke capital exerts a pernicious influence on society,” DeSantis argued in the book.
He goes on to criticize corporations that wield their power to express views “on issues that do not directly affect their businesses.” He acknowledged they have the right to do so, but countered “it is not healthy when a market-based economy becomes an extension of political factionalism.”
He also wrote that employees “have a right to be free” from the imposition of “woke ideology as a condition of employment.” DeSantis asserted that “the freedom to speak does not include the right to indoctrinate,” even after acknowledging that businesses are allowed to advocate for any “fad” they choose.
But “when ESG activism forces changes to a nation’s energy posture, it represents the imposition of a policy through extraconstitutional means,” he argued.
In the book, DeSantis called for states to form an anti-ESG voting bloc, writing that “simply allowing woke capital and Big Tech to run amok without any accountability is an approach that is inadequate to the task at hand.”
DeSantis, who as Florida governor has waded into thorny culture-war fights and wielded the power of his office against his perceived foes on the political left, has previously weighed in on ESG. Last August, for instance, he passed a resolution barring Florida’s state pension fund managers from considering ESG in their investment practices.
DeSantis’ book also details his fights with entertainment giant Disney, whose Disney World park in Orlando has long provided an important revenue stream for the state.
DeSantis wrote that he advised Disney’s then-CEO Bob Chapek to stay out of heated dispute over legislation that critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Disney ultimately came out against the bill and vowed to help get it repealed.
On Monday, DeSantis signed a bill giving the state new power over the area that has long granted Disney special self-governance abilities.
Whether DeSantis makes ESG a campaign priority or not, the issue will continue to draw controversy on Capitol Hill. President Joe Biden last year loosened a Trump-era rule that made it more difficult to use ESG funds in 401(k) plans, and on Monday his administration came out against a GOP-penned House resolution criticizing that decision.
Mike Pence, Trump’s former vice president who may also be among the field seeking the GOP nomination, vowed earlier Tuesday to “put a stop to ESG once and for all!”