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Riding The Anti-ESG Bandwagon

Attacking investments that take into account environmental, social and governmental issues is all the right-wing rage these days -- and did its partisan duty to promote those talking points.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 5/8/2023

Craig Bannister

The latest right-wing fad is to express performative outrage over investment policies that focus on environmental, social and governmental issues -- or ESG for short -- and was apparently ideologically ordered to hop aboard that bandwagon (not to mention inserting the vaguely defined word "woke" to describe at every opportunity). Lauren Shank wrote in a Nov. 15 article:
The woke investing of ESG – Environmental, Social, and Governance – by state governments and other entities is destructive and a threat to pension holders, said Louisiana State Treasurer John Schroder on Monday in Washington, D.C. “We should invest more in our own states,” he said, “if you don’t invest in your own state, who is?”

Schroder made his remarks at the State Financial Officers Foundation (SFOF) National Convention on Nov. 14, where he was joined by state treasurers and auditors from Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and eight other states.

As explained by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, “ ESG stands for environmental, social, and governance. ESG investing is a way of investing in companies based on their commitment to one or more ESG factors. It is often also called sustainable investing, socially responsible investing, and impact investing.”

At the convention, CNS News asked Schroder how people can combat ESG investing, and what he has done to protect Louisiana from the effects of it.

As befits someone who cares more about pushing a narrative than being the fair and balanced journalist she purports to be, Shank talked to no supporter of ESG investments. Instead, she hyped a study claiming that ESG investments perform relatively poorly.

Fellow fall intern Peyton Holliday also made a trip to that same convention, and she churned out a similarly biased article the same day:

“Elections matter” and Americans should strive to “elect people that are representing the interest of pensions,” said Kentucky State Treasurer Allison Ball on Monday in Washington, D.C. She also sharply criticized ESG investing and explained that many voters are unaware that their pensions are being invested in ESG companies instead of in what is best for their retirement and their state.

Ball made her remarks on Nov. 14 at the State Financial Officers Foundation (SFOF) National Convention, where she was joined by state treasurers and auditors from Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and eight other states.

Like Shank, Holliday made no effort to talk to an ESG supporter. But this narrative is apparently such a priority for CNS' parent, the Media Research Center, that both of these articles were reposted at at NewsBusters website. Apparently, there is no more wall between news and activism, if indeed there ever was.

She followed up with another anti-ESG article on Nov. 29 combined with the Elon Musk stenography CNS has been indulging in since showed interest in buying Twitter:

Entrepreneur and business magnate Elon Musk considers ESG -- environmental, social, and governance investing or ‘woke’ investing -- to be “the devil.”

Musk was tagged in a Twitter post by Carol Roth who wrote, “Remember when @ElonMusk wanted to bring free speech to Twitter and then S&P removed Tesla from their ESG 500 index, but kept in Exxon?”

“ESG is business social credit,” she added. “It’s a means to control capital, keep business people in line with the narrative, and, ultimately, control you.”

To which Musk responded, “ESG is the devil.”

Holliday did, however, note a reason why Musk might be a little sour about ESG investments: Tesla, where he serves as CEO, was removed from from the S&P 500's ESG index.

Craig Bannister served up another Republican anti-ESG promotion in a Dec. 5 article:

Florida is pulling $2 billion of assets from BlackRock, the world’s largest asset management firm, because the company should be choosing investments based on its clients’ best interests, and not on an environmental, social and governance (ESG) agenda, the state’s attorney general explained Monday.

“Governor DeSantis (R) has been very clear: Florida is where ‘woke’ goes to die. But, this is a bigger picture,” AG Ashley Moody said in an interview with Fox & Friends First:


Florida funds don’t belong in “these large institutions that were doing anything other than looking at risk, return and diversification, any other sort of ideological agenda,” Moody said.

Bannister served up more Republican anti-ESG stenography the next day:

On Tuesday, six House Republicans launched a probe into whether a group of banks and money managers, wielding the influence of a reported $60 trillion of investments, is violating federal antitrust laws in order to promote ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) policies.

The letter, sent to two investment executives on the steering committee of Climate Action 100+, is signed by the incoming chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), joined by Reps. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Scott Fitzgerald (R-WI), Cliff Bentz (R-OR), and Tom McClintock (R-CA).


“Woke corporations are collectively adopting and imposing progressive policy goals that American consumers do not want or do not need,” the letter adds.


The letter also lists other ESG-related goals, such as abortion access, climate change fear-mongering, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, gun control and censorship of so-called disinformation.

Good intentions, no matter how dearly they are held, do not excuse antitrust violations, the letter explains, requesting that the information sought be provided by December 20, 2022.

Bannister became very much an anti-ESG propagandist for Republicans, writing in a Dec. 7 article:

The committee is looking into the ways, and extent, that BlackRock’s efforts to achieve an ideological agenda is harming its Texans and the state’s pension plans by boycotting some industries, such as coal and oil, in favor of less profitable, so-called “green” initiatives.


Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar has described the ESG movement as an “opaque and perverse system,” where financial institutions “use their financial clout to push a social and political agenda shrouded in secrecy.”

More propaganda -- and a promotional piece -- followed in a Dec. 9 article:

“If somebody tries to sell you on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing, hold on tight to your wallet and to your values – ESG is coming for both,” Senior Fellow at the School of Public Policy Pepperdine University Andy Puzder warns in a PragerU video.

Puzder details how, due to the ESG investment strategy, “companies, and even whole economies, go from woke to broke – including your 401(k).”

ESG is an anti-capitalism investment strategy that assumes that “If you’re a company just trying to make a profit, you’re the problem” – even though the profit motive has brought about some of mankind’s greatest inventions – including electric cars, solar panels and wind turbines, Puzder notes.

Bannister was back in a Dec. 22 article:

A bank tried to use his loan application as leverage to coerce him into publicly expressing support for Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) ideology, businessman Bud Brigham alleged in testimony at a Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs hearing.

Brigham, founder and executive chairman of Brigham Minerals, detailed his allegation at a December 15, 2022 hearing examining the harm that the ESG movement - in which financial institutions limit their investments to companies aligned with specific leftwing environmental and social causes - is doing to Texans, their access to capital, and their investment portfolios.

In his testimony, Brigham claimed that Credit Suisse, a global investment bank and financial services firm, suggested that his company would have its loan application approved – but, only if he tweeted out statements repeating and promoting principles of liberals’ climate agenda.

“I’m going to provide you with a couple of specific examples of how corrupt it is, looking at the ESG movement,” Brigham began his testimony.

This article was also reposted at NewsBusters.

In none of these articles did Bannister offer any sort of balance in the way of a pro-ESG viewpoint. That's because CNS is paying him to be a biased propagandist, not a balanced journalist.

New year, same ESG-bashing continued its ideologically mandated right-wing bandwagon campaign against investments that take environmental, social and governmental issues into consideration with a Jan. 4 article by Bannister:

As 2022 drew to a close, all 10 of the largest Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) funds left investors suffering double-digit percentage losses in the value of their portfolios, an analysis by Bloomberg reveals.

What’s more, the report finds that eight of the ten largest ESG funds, measured by assets, performed worse than the S&P 500:

But actual analysts pointed out that this is a "very narrow interpretation of the data" and that ESG investments have done well on a long-term basis:

The problem with this argument – ESG products are bad investments and take returns off the table for hardworking pension funds investors – is that it relies on a very narrow interpretation of the data. Looking at both a short- and long-term horizon, the figures are much better. In the third quarter (the latest figures available), global ESG median return was -6.09% compared with a broader global equity peer group return of -6.87%. Nearly two in three funds – a full 65% outperformed the index.


More important is looking at longer term results. On a one-year basis, 63% of global ESG products underperformed. This reflects the overall underperformance of growth products, as 73% of these investments underperformed the index. But looking at a three-year time horizon is different. Seventy-four percent of ESG products outperformed the benchmark, with a median return of 5.9%.

Nevertheless, Bannister quoted a right-wing activist insisting that these numbers "dispelled the myth that ESG is a worthy investment" and demanding that it be "challenged and defeated politically."

Bannister continued to crank out biased anti-ESG articles throughout January and February, many of which were reprinted at its Media Research Center parent's NewsBusters blog (so much for any purported wall between news and opinion at the MRC):

Biden ESG rule change

When the Biden administration established a new rule that allows retirement plans to more easily consider ESG factors, Bannister had a preordained freakout over it in a Jan. 30 post:

A new Biden Administration rule took effect Monday, allowing retirement plan administrators (fiduciaries) to base investments on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) goals, rather than only on the maximum financial benefit of their clients.

The U.S. Department of Labor released the final rule under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) to allow plan fiduciaries to consider climate change and other environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors when they make investment decisions and when they exercise shareholder rights, including voting on shareholder resolutions and board nominations.

The Biden rule eliminates a 2020 Trump Administration rule requirement that fiduciaries consider only the monetary benefit (“pecuniary only”) to their clients when choosing investments.

In other words, it's not a new rule -- it simply reverses a Trump policy and returns things to the previous status quo. Later that day, Bannister served up some related PR for the fossil fuel industry (which CNS loves to do):

An alliance of two hundred companies engaged in oil and natural gas exploration and production has joined with the attorneys general of 25 states in a lawsuit seeking to stop a new Biden Administration rule allowing retirement account managers to invest in Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) efforts, even if they’re not the most profitable for their clients.

The complaint, filed in Texas, seeks a preliminary injunction and permanent relief, in the form of a declaration that the ESG rule violates both the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and is arbitrary and capricious.

“This rule is an affront to every American concerned about their retirement account. The fact that the Biden Administration is now opting to risk the financial security of working-class Americans to advance a woke political agenda is insulting and illegal,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is co-leading the lawsuit, said in a press release announcing the complaint:

But if the policy simply reverts to previous norms, it makes no sense to call it "arbitrary and capricious."

Bannister touted his employer's activism on the issue in a Feb. 1 article:

Every Republican senator and Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) are introducing a resolution opposing President Joe Biden’s new ESG investment rule because it politicizes and threatens the value of Americans’ 401Ks.

Led by Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN), the senators condemn the rule, because it allows fiduciaries to consider ideological factors – specifically, environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals – when investing, rather than just rate of return.


The Media Research Center (MRC), along with more than a hundred other conservative organizations, have endorsed the resolution in the following letter to Congress:

Bannister failed, however, to disclose that the MRC operates CNS -- meaning that there's a conflict of interest here. So much for CNS being a responsible "news" organization. As Republicans pushed a resolution through Congress opposing the rollback, Craig Bannister dutifully hyped it in a Feb. 28 article:

On Monday, President Joe Biden vowed to veto a joint resolution working its way through Congress this week that would nullify the administration’s recent rule allowing retirement and pension fund managers to choose investments based on environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations.

Under federal ERISA law, asset managers have a fiduciary responsibility to their clients to base investment decisions on their expected financial profitability alone, but a Labor Department rule that went into effect last month now gives fund managers the freedom to pick investments based on anticipated ESG benefits, as well.

Bannister hyped the "bipartisan" votes the next day:

On Wednesday, the Senate followed the House in passing a joint resolution to nullify a recent Biden Administration rule that allows asset managers to prioritize less-profitable ideological causes over profit maximization when investing their clients’ retirement funds.

Biden’s Labor Department rule had freed managers of retirement account and pension funds from their fiduciary responsibility to consider only profitability, so that they could put their clients’ money in environmental, social and governance (ESG) investments yielding lower returns with higher fees.

The joint resolution (H.J. Res. 30) passed the Senate by a four-vote margin, with the help of two Democrat senators, Townhall reports:


On Tuesday, H.J. Res. 30 passed the House, on a bipartisan of 216-204 – the same day that the White House released a statement promising that President Joe Biden intends to veto the measure.

Bannister failed in both articles to disclose that the Biden policy change simply reverts investment policies to pre-Trump standards.

CNS also cranked out stenography articles quoting Republican politicians over the ESG policy change that didn't allow anyone to rebut them:

When Biden did indeed veto that resolution, Bannister whined about it in a March 20 article:

On Monday, President Joe Biden issued his first presidential veto, in objection to a bipartisan Congressional joint resolution nullifying his administration’s rule freeing asset managers to invest their clients’ retirement savings in political causes, rather than in the most profitable investments.

“[T]his resolution [joint resolution H.J. Res. 30] would prevent retirement plan fiduciaries from taking into account factors, such as the physical risks of climate change and poor corporate governance, that could affect investment returns,” Biden wrote Monday in his “Message to the House of Representatives — President’s Veto of H.J. Res 30.”


Biden posted a snarky tweet celebrating his veto on Monday, in which he derided the joint resolution as a product of House Republicans who want to “make America great again” (MAGA), such as firebrand Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia), and claimed that politically-motivated ESG investments, somehow, “protect your hard-earned savings”:
“I just vetoed my first bill.

“This bill would risk your retirement savings by making it illegal to consider risk factors MAGA House Republicans don't like.

“Your plan manager should be able to protect your hard-earned savings — whether Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene likes it or not.”
Note that Bannister falsely put words in Biden's mouth -- he didn't call ESG investments "politically-motivated."

In none of these articles, by the way, is it explained why Americans should be prohibited from investing their money the way they choose, given that personal freedom is something right-wingers like the folks who run CNS are supposed to be in favor of.

Bannister attacked a bank that isn't even in the United States in a March 9 article:

A “Climate Modifier” bonus for top executives is among the tactics being used to advance the Royal Bank of Canada’s (RBC) environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals, the bank revealed Monday, announcing the publication of its 2022 Climate Report and ESG Performance Report.

“These reports reflect the importance that RBC places on identifying, understanding and responding to the ESG topics that matter most to our stakeholders and our business,” RBC explains in its press release.


The Royal Bank of Canada isn't alone in its efforts to mix business with politics in an effort to advance ESG ideology.

In February, a global asset management corporation handling total portfolio funds in excess of nine hundred billion dollars began providing financial incentives to its employees to make investment decisions that subordinate profit maximization to the advancement of environmental, social and governance goals.

Bannister hyped a claim that ESG isn't as profitable as regular investing in a March 20 article:

While powerful asset managers, such as BlackRock, are pressuring companies to cater to liberal environmental, social and governance (ESG) agendas, a new analysis finds that companies that aren’t influenced by politics outperform those that are.

In a Wall Street Journal commentary, “Is ESG Profitable? The Numbers Don’t Lie,” veteran investment industry experts Mike Edleson and Andy Puzder present the findings of their study of the effect of ESG politics on company fortunes.

Bannister ignored other research showing that companies that embrace ESG principles have seen higher revenues, stronger growth of profits and greater access to finance.

The next day, Bannister gave Vivek Ramaswamy -- who was previously given a platform by CNS to falsely blame the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank on ESG policies and whose presidential ambitions have been touted by CNS' Media Research Center parent -- to rage some more against ESG:

“The issue with the ESG movement – it stands for environmental, social and governance factors – it’s designed to sound boring for a reason,” Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy warns.

The reason the ESG movement doesn’t want Americans to take an interest in it is that it seeks “to accomplish through the back door what government could not get done through the front door using the Constitution,” the biotech entrepreneur explains in a video posted to his Twitter page.

A March 28 article by Bannister hyped a claim about "the apparent bubble-burst of the environmental, social and governance (ESG) investment market" made by a "financial and economics Author" writing at the right-wing blog Liberty Nation. On April 11, Bannister touted fossil-fuel interests (which CNS loved to do) as allegedly doing well despite not being embraced under ESG:

Despite being shunned by fund managers trying to advance liberal ESG (environmental, social and governance) ideology, coal industry stocks have been outperforming both the overall market and those of other forms of energy, a new analysis reveals.

“The Zacks Coal industry stocks staged a rebound in 2022 courtesy of global demand and surging natural gas prices,” Yahoo! Finance reports in an April 6 article analyzing the performance of an 11-stock group of companies engaged in the discovery and mining of coal.

Bannister spent an April 14 article hyping a group pushing anti-ESG talking points:

A list of ways Americans can protect themselves from the financial harm inflicted by Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) ideology is being provided by a website warning of the little-known dangers of the ESG movement.

“ESG is a highly subjective political score infiltrating all walks of life forcing progressive policies on everyday Americans resulting in higher prices at the pump and at the store,” cautions State Financial Officers Foundation (SFOF) CEO Derek Kreifels, whose group sponsors the Our Money, Our Values website.

Bannister didn't disclose that the SFOF is a Republican group that's simply peddling a partisan narrative -- perhaps because that's what Bannister was doing as well.

The MRC's shutdown of CNS on April 20 put an end to the storyline, though Bannister continues to post under a depleted CNS nameplate at the MRCTV website.

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