One of the largest public state pension funds in the nation has routinely accepted shareholder resolution advice from a woke proxy advisory firm based in San Francisco, effectively leveraging its nearly $100 billion in assets to push companies toward adopting leftist priorities that critics say contradict the conservative state’s values.
Officials at the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, also known as OPERS, and a senior elected Republican told The Daily Wire the fund is rightly concerned about “reputational risk,” but has not delegated its decision-making to Glass Lewis.
Glass Lewis advises investment entities on how they should employ their stakes in public companies to support or oppose various shareholder resolutions. OPERS, which currently manages more than $92 billion on behalf of retirees, survivors, and disabled citizens in Ohio, has accepted the firm’s recommendations to support equity audits, carbon emissions reports, and other progressive policies, according to a report created by the American Accountability Foundation and shared with The Daily Wire.
OPERS voted last year, for instance, in favor of proposals at Berkshire Hathaway which called for aligning greenhouse gas reductions with the Paris Climate Agreement, as well as resolutions which endorsed the publication of climate and diversity reports. The fund also voted for the creation of a gender and racial pay equity report at Disney, the release of a net zero emissions analysis at Exxon Mobil, and the issuance of a racial equity audit at Home Depot.
Similar votes related to social issues were cast at the recommendation of Glass Lewis for Meta, United Airlines, Walmart, and other public companies in which OPERS maintains a stake. Some votes from the fund supported the “defund the police” movement and condemned contributions to police foundations, while others opposed political donations to entities which denounce abortion.
Senior managers at Glass Lewis are overwhelmingly progressive: Glass Lewis President Carrie Busch has made donations to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ political lobbying organization; Glass Lewis Chief Operating Officer John Wieck has donated to a number of Democratic candidates; and Glass Lewis Chief Legal Officer lauded a move from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to ban the importation of handguns, according to another analysis from the American Accountability Foundation shared with The Daily Wire.
The controversial OPERS votes came even as a number of Republican state lawmakers, treasurers, and attorneys general across the nation severed ties with asset management companies which endorse the environmental, social, and corporate governance movement, also known as ESG, an investment philosophy which leverages funds to advance political and social agendas in a manner which critics say distracts from the maximization of profits.
“I’m troubled by the woke left’s hijacking and capture of the American corporate sector and OPERS proxy votes for resolutions attacking pro-life lawmakers, promoting abortions, and calling for defunding the police,” former Ohio Republican State Treasurer Ken Blackwell said in comments to The Daily Wire. “I believe OPERS should, exercising independent judgment, make decisions in the best fiduciary interest of its members. Clearly, this is not happening.”
American Accountability Foundation Executive Director Tom Jones emailed the conservative research group’s analysis of proxy votes to OPERS Executive Director Karen Carraher on March 29 but never received a response. “OPERS needs to explain how it has happened and what you are going to do to purge the corrosive influence of Glass Lewis and other woke activists from the system,” he told the official in an email seen by The Daily Wire.
OPERS Communication Strategist Michael Pramik confirmed to The Daily Wire that Carraher did not reply to the inquiry and claimed that the fund “does not permit ideologies to influence our investment or proxy voting decisions.” He insisted that the fund’s investment objective is merely to “maximize returns within a reasonable risk framework, thus supporting the system’s mission of providing secure retirement benefits to our members.”
Jones also contacted Ohio Republican House Majority Leader William Seitz on March 29 with his concerns about the proxy votes. Seitz responded to the email on April 10 with copies of the OPERS corporate governance and proxy voting guidelines, informing Jones that he found the documents to be “very reassuring that OPERS is totally committed to maximizing fund values for its pensioners without regard to pursuing strategies that exalt environmental and social concerns” over the fundamental objective of maximizing returns.
Seitz added that he met with OPERS authorities, who informed him that some of the votes were for policies that board directors for the portfolio companies had recommended, while other votes were executed because the fund was “concerned that reputational risk to the corporation in which OPERS was invested could lead to shareholder losses.”
“I recognize that there is a fine line between making decisions based on perceived reputational risks, many of which are simply ginned up by liberal activists, and treading further into supporting the ESG woke agenda,” Seitz told Jones. “However, as long as the lodestar of OPERS’ policy is as stated in the enclosed, I am fairly comfortable with what they have done.”
Jones responded to Seitz on April 14 with more detailed information about the politically charged shareholder resolutions which OPERS had supported. “I hope you are aware that the woke activists use the ‘risk’ framing as a tool to manipulate lawmakers, press, and investor relations,” Jones asserted, noting that describing resolutions in such a manner “is the cover they give to liberals who want to sound like they actually care about shareholder value but actually want to implement a liberal agenda and attack conservatives.”
Seitz confirmed to The Daily Wire that he did not respond to the second message from Jones, asserting that “at some point, we had to terminate the dialogue to further evaluate how we should regulate the pension funds’ independent proxy decisions.”
The lawmaker later told The Daily Wire through a spokesperson that he has a “legislative effort underway on the issue.” The proposed bill, which appears to currently be in draft form, will deal with “financial institutions and other businesses that conduct economic boycotts or discriminate against certain companies or customers based on certain factors.”
The Daily Wire asked Seitz whether the bill would address the votes undertaken at the direction of Glass Lewis. His office said that the bill will “most likely” allow Glass Lewis to “electronically vote the proxies but only in accordance with instructions issued by the pension funds” with “no discretion to deviate from what the pension funds instructed them to do.”
A spokesperson for Ohio Republican Governor Mike DeWine told The Daily Wire that the official is monitoring legislative proposals and “waiting to see which bill will ultimately be sent” to his desk. When asked whether the bills would impact the relationship between OPERS and Glass Lewis, the spokesperson said that “it is too early to tell what will be in any final bill on this topic.”
Editor’s Note: This article has been edited to clarify Ohio Republican House Majority Leader William Seitz’s position on Glass Lewis’ relationship with OPERS.