A coalition of Republican state attorneys general accused International Shareholder Services and Glass Lewis of violating state and federal law through their commitments to the environmental, social, and corporate governance movement, also known as ESG.
The two companies, which constitute a “duopoly” in providing proxy voting recommendations to institutional shareholders, are each committed to encouraging the implementation of net zero carbon emissions goals, according to a letter endorsed by 21 attorneys general provided to The Daily Wire. The document noted that proxy advisor recommendations “must be free from false or misleading material information” under federal law and added that many states “have prohibitions on unfair or deceptive trade practices.”
“Your duties include acting with reasonable diligence and without conflicts of interest. These agreements also typically require that you consider only one goal: the economic value of the investments,” the officials wrote. “The publicly available statements and actions of ISS and Glass Lewis in the performance of their duties as proxy advisors raise serious questions about whether both have violated their statutory and contractual duties.”
ISS has announced that it will “generally vote against” board directors who neglect to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, while Glass Lewis bases proxy voting recommendations on whether a given company is pursuing “net zero emissions goals,” according to the letter. Both have announced efforts to push “racial, ethnic, or sex-based diversity under arbitrary quotas.”
“Because these firms have a duopoly in the proxy advisory market, they exercise enormous influence in advancing the ESG movement,” Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a statement provided to The Daily Wire. “A proxy advisor must prioritize the economic value of their clients’ investments. Unfortunately, it appears these two companies are prioritizing political activism.”
The campaign from the attorneys general follows Republican state treasurers divesting some $12 billion from asset management company BlackRock, a leading proponent of the ESG movement, over the past year. The investment philosophy says firms have a responsibility beyond maximizing profits for shareholders and should actively impact outcomes regarding climate, diversity, and other social matters.
The letter to ISS and Glass Lewis called upon the two firms to provide information on how executives “determine ‘appropriate’ emissions reduction targets for each company and the financial basis for your determination” and “any analysis you conducted to determine that insurance companies’ discrimination based on race and sex would not violate the law.”
Republican officials have contended that ESG presents a threat to their states’ ability to fundraise on the bond market as entities seeking access to capital markets see downgrades linked to cultural matters unrelated to financial health. Beyond discouraging investments into the oil and gas sectors, ESG activists pushed stockholders for companies such as Walmart and Lowe’s to consider abortion-related proposals ahead of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Lawmakers have also asserted that undue hesitancy toward fossil fuel investments from prominent asset management companies has contributed to record energy prices.
A motion filed by several attorneys general with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission sought to prevent Vanguard from buying shares in publicly traded utilities out of a concern that the company’s climate efforts would raise prices and decrease grid reliability. The firm responded by ceasing involvement with the Net Zero Asset Managers initiative, under which signatories vow to move portfolio companies closer to eliminating net carbon emissions.