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Kentucky Takes Action to Cut ESG Out of State Pensions

AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

In a letter to the heads of Kentucky's Public Pension Authority and Teachers' Retirement System, the Commonwealth's Attorney General Daniel Cameron and Treasurer Allison Ball asked that Kentucky's major public pension systems provide proof that "ESG considerations are not being implemented" in the systems' investment decisions.


The two public pension systems hold a total of more than $66 billion on behalf of Kentuckians, and the joint letter from AG Cameron and Treasurer Ball points out that ESG — environmental, social, and governance — practices "introduce mixed motivations to investment decisions."

The letter — embedded in full below — provides the two pension systems with a deadline of November 23 to respond with information about whether ESG has worked its way into the public systems' investments.

Continuing, the letter noted that Treasurer Ball recently asked AG Cameron for an opinion on whether ESG investing is "consistent with Kentucky law governing fiduciary duties owed by investment managers to Kentucky's public pensions." In his opinion, Cameron concluded that such practices do in fact "violate statutory and contractual fiduciary duties."

Cameron noted the "increasing trend among some investment management firms to use money in public and state employee pension plans—that is, other people’s money—to push their own political agendas and force social change" while "some corporate suites now use the assets they manage...to enforce their preferred partisan sensibilities and to seek their desired societal and political changes."

Explaining how ESG affects Kentuckians, Cameron's recent opinion explained that:

One investment management firm, at one time directing roughly $1.5 billion on behalf of the Kentucky Public Pension Authority, has made a “firmwide commitment to integrate ESG information into [its] investment processes” to affect “all of [its] investment divisions and investments teams.” Other investment management firms that direct billions of dollars in Kentucky pension fund investments have publicly made similar commitments to ESG investment practices. There is some suggestion that politically biased investment strategies have real costs and worsen outcomes for pensioners. These harms are significant because companies employing ESG investment strategies are entrusted as fiduciaries to manage the funds in the best interests of pension beneficiaries like teachers, firefighters, and many other public servants who have ordered their lives around promises made and who depend on public pensions to finance their retirements.


AG Cameron's opinion and his new joint letter with Treasurer Ball to the public pension systems sets the stage for similar action to those taken recently in Missouri and before that in Louisiana. Presumably, based on what Cameron noted, some of the pension systems' assets are managed by entities that have committed themselves to ESG investing practices. 

If such ESG practices are found to be at play in the public systems, then funds in ESG-advancing hands would need to be divested and put into other non-ESG-focused entities. 

Treasurer Ball noted that "Kentuckians worked hard for decades to earn their pensions and rely on them for livelihood in retirement," adding that it "is important their investments are maximized, not politicized. As the watchdog of taxpayer dollars, I remain committed to ensuring funds are invested and spent consistent with the law," she pledged. 

Reacting to the letter, the Executive Director of Consumers' Research Will Hild noted that the "joint action of Treasurer Ball and Attorney General Cameron sends a clear message to Kentucky's pension fund investment managers: their obligations are to work for the pensioners, not the Democratic party, international climate groups, or megalomaniacs like Larry Fink," the chairman and CEO of BlackRock. "We applaud both officials in standing up for the citizens of Kentucky, who are being crushed due to reckless, illegal actions by companies like BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street that put progressive politics above their legal and moral duties," Hild added.


This isn't AG Cameron's first move against ESG, either. Earlier in October, Cameron joined an investigation with a total of 19 state attorneys general into six major U.S. banks led by Missouri AG Eric Schmitt probing the financial institutions' involvement with a U.N. alliance dedicated to advancing ESG practices.  

Read the full letter from Cameron and Ball, including the AG's opinion on ESG, below:

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