Utah State Treasurer Marlo Oaks, one of the nation’s leading voices pushing back against the influence of progressive politics in corporate America, on Saturday blasted a controversial investing movement that critics decry for pushing “woke” political causes as being part of “Satan’s plan.”
Oaks, speaking to the Salt Lake County Republican Party Convention, told GOP delegates that ESG investing and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) had positive aims — such as helping the environment and combating poverty — but were part of “outcomes-based systems” designed to reach a pre-determined conclusion without any discussion.
“The goals have been identified. The truth has already been defined that these are the problems, and here are the solutions,” said Oaks, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. “The debate is over.”
Oaks then invoked the biblical “war in Heaven” from the Book of Revelation, calling it another “outcomes-based” initiative.
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“Outcomes-based governance like the U.N.’s SDGs and ESG opens the door to authoritarianism,” said Oaks. “It is Satan’s plan.”
ESG, short for environmental, social, and governance investing, is based on the concept that investors should use these three broad categories when evaluating where to put their money, prioritizing progressive values and “social responsibility” when making financial decisions.
When asked for clarification about his remarks, a spokesperson for Oaks told the Tribune that the issues raised by ESG are important and should be debated.
“Treasurer Oaks said his use of scripture was an attempt to speak to an audience that might understand the example and illustrate the problem with systems that attempt to push outcomes on everyone,” the spokesperson said. “His opposition is to coercion as a mechanism in society.”
Oaks is one of several experts and policymakers who have criticized ESG for seeking to achieve policy objectives by bypassing legislatures and the democratic process in order to impose them.
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“ESG promotes and implements policies through private businesses that could be adopted through a legislative process,” Oaks said in an interview last year. “The Green New Deal didn’t make it through Congress, so its proponents shifted the battlefield to the capital markets.”
ESG has become a politically explosive issue over the past couple years.
The theory underpinning ESG is that corporations should deemphasize their traditional responsibility to maximize value for shareholders and instead make new commitments to alternative stakeholder groups, serving other interests and society at large.
Many investors now use ESG as a rating system to measure a company’s advancement of policies designed to address climate change, increase corporate board demographic diversity, and support a progressive “social justice” agenda, among other initiatives.
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However, critics of what they describe as “corporate wokeness” have been mobilizing against the march of ESG advocates, arguing the financial movement is a way to push left-wing causes through business rather than the legislature.
Last April, Oaks coordinated an effort by political leaders across the state to send a letter to S&P Global Ratings President and CEO Douglas Peterson demanding that S&P withdraw ESG indicators as a factor in its credit ratings for states and state subdivisions.
“ESG is about controlling and forcing behaviors,” Oaks said in a statement at the time. “It attempts to do through capital markets what activists and their government allies have been unable to do through democratic processes. S&P should be concerned about whether investors will get paid back, not whether a state policy lines up with their political beliefs, whatever those may be.”
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Months later, Oaks pulled about $100 million in state funds from the giant investment firm BlackRock, one of corporate America’s biggest promoters of ESG.
At the federal level, the Senate earlier this month passed a resolution killing a Biden administration rule that encourages managers to consider ESG factors when making investment decisions for the retirement funds of over 150 million Americans.