Sen. Ted Cruz blasted BlackRock CEO Larry Fink on Tuesday for so-called “woke” investment decisions — and suggested money managers like Fink be barred from voting on behalf of other investors “to advance their own political interests.”
“Because that is not capitalism, that is abusing the market,” Cruz, R-Texas, charged during an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”
During much of the interview, Cruz blamed the White House’s policies for the surge in gas prices since President Joe Biden took office in January 2021.
But the senator also took aim at Fink, whose company is the world’s largest asset manager, and other CEOs, who he argued have moved away from focusing on increasing profits for shareholders to taking stances on social issues like climate change to curry favor with wealthy liberals.
Fink highlighted climate change as a problem facing corporations in a 2020 letter to CEOs of the companies BlackRock has invested in. “Climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects,” Fink wrote. “I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.”
Cruz on Tuesday repeatedly invoked what he called Fink’s support of ESG — environmental, social and governance issues — in various shareholder votes.
“Does Wall Street also bear some of the responsibility? Absolutely,” Cruz said, referring to the average price for regular unleaded gasoline topping $4.70 per gallon.
“There’s a Larry Fink surcharge, every time you fill up your tank, you can thank Larry for the massive and inappropriate ESG pressure,” Cruz said.
He later said, “What Larry Fink is doing has been unprecedented, in the rise of ESG.”
“And I think there is a real problem with people who are investing, who are voting shares of passively invested funds,” Cruz said, referring to funds that invest in companies belonging to various stock indexes.
“Larry Fink is not using his own money to vote as a shareholder,” Cruz said. “What Larry Fink is doing is taking your shares and my shares and [those of] millions of little old ladies who’ve invested in funds, and he’s aggregating that vast amount of capital and he’s decided to vote not to maximize their returns, because apparently his fiduciary duty to customers is not a top priority. He’s voting instead on his politics.”
Cruz said Fink had “decided that he’s more welcomed at the ‘New York Country Club’ when he walks in and has stood against oil and gas even if it reduces the returns of the accounts he’s managing, and even if it’s destroying jobs, helping America’s enemies and hurting America.”
He said money managers who vote on shareholder matters based on their political interests instead of investors need more scrutiny.
“That is not capitalism, that is abusing the market,” the senator said.
A BlackRock spokesman, when asked about Cruz’s comments, said in an email, “The only agenda driving BlackRock’s proxy voting is the long-term economic interests of the millions of people whose money we manage.”
“And we believe clients should also have the option to choose for themselves how their proxy votes are cast,” the spokesman said. “We lead the industry in providing proxy voting choice.”
“Today, nearly half of our index equity assets under management — including pension funds serving more than 60 million people — can choose how their proxy votes are cast,” he said.
“While that is an industry first, we see it as just a start,” he said. “We are pursuing technology and regulatory solutions to expand voting choice for even more clients. Index investing has been the driving force in democratizing investing for millions of Americans, with lower cost and greater choice. We’re committed to democratizing proxy voting too.”
In January, in his annual letter to CEOs, Fink wrote, “Stakeholder capitalism is not about politics. It is not a social or ideological agenda. It is not ‘woke.’ “
“It is capitalism, driven by mutually beneficial relationships between you and the employees, customers, suppliers and communities your company relies on to prosper. This is the power of capitalism,” Fink wrote.