Larry Fink is many things — BlackRock CEO, billionaire, environmentalist, philanthropist, and, increasingly, a major punching bag for some on the right.
Fink has used his influence running the world’s largest money manager, which has more than $10 trillion in assets under management, to push for environmental, social, and governance standards and has led the corporate shift away from shareholder capitalism toward stakeholder capitalism.
As Fink has grown in prominence, his ideas and influence on Wall Street have raised the ire of conservatives. On Tuesday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) placed some of the blame for the country’s higher gas prices on Fink’s “woke” push for more corporate involvement in combating climate change.
“There’s a Larry Fink surcharge every time you fill up your tank. You can thank Larry for the massive and inappropriate [environmental, social, and governance] pressure,” Cruz said on CNBC. “What Larry Fink is doing has been unprecedented in the rise of ESG.”
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The GOP has traditionally been the party with the closest ties to Wall Street and big business, but some Republicans, particularly populists in the time since former President Donald Trump rose to prominence, have pushed back on business leaders for getting involved in politically charged issues, including climate change.
In 2020, Fink used his annual must-read letter to CEOs to focus on climate change, saying the matter was becoming a “defining factor” in BlackRock’s assessment of companies. After the letter, several corporations announced plans to slash their carbon footprints, showing the sway that Fink has over the financial world.
At the same time, he's done business in China, which is accused of committing genocide against ethnic Uyghurs, leading to charges of hypocrisy.
Last year, BlackRock began tapping into the Chinese market by offering mutual funds and investment products to Chinese investors, becoming the first foreign-owned firm to be allowed to do so. In addition, the research arm of his company also encouraged investors to triple their exposure to Chinese assets.
Consumers’ Research, a conservative nonprofit organization, has launched a massive multimillion-dollar campaign targeting Fink and BlackRock for its involvement in China. The campaign has been going on for months now and features television ads, mobile billboards railing against BlackRock, radio advertising, and the website WhoIsLarryFink.com.
“He calls democracy messy, props up the Chinese Communist Party, praises Xi [Jinping] and his regime known for violent oppression, invests in Chinese military companies. A defector? No. It’s BlackRock’s CEO Larry Fink, the CEO of a major American company who’s gone all in on China,” the narrator says in one of the TV ads.
“Could he be more un-American?” the narrator asks.
Fink’s firm has also faced blowback from top officials in red states, such as West Virginia state Treasurer Riley Moore.
Moore contends that BlackRock’s push for cleaner investment strategies would harm the fossil fuel industry and, given that his state is the country’s fifth-largest energy producer, harm his residents.
Earlier this year, Moore drew headlines when he announced that the state would end the use of one of BlackRock’s investment funds. He said the inflows and outflows of that fund were about $1.5 billion.
“We saw a very clear conflict of interest for us to continue to do business with BlackRock, particularly as it relates to their stance on the fossil fuel industry,” Moore told the Washington Examiner earlier this year.
Moore and others have accused Fink of being duplicitous for investing in China, which is the world’s largest polluter of carbon, while railing against climate change and advocating cleaner investment strategies stateside.
“They’re starting up investments in China, but then they’re trying to crush our industries here in America,” Moore said.
Fink has also faced barbs from fellow billionaire Peter Thiel, who lashed out at a perceived lack of institutional acceptance for cryptocurrencies on the part of Fink as well as Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett and JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon.
Thiel, a cryptocurrency evangelist who has recently been involved in conservative politics, said during a Bitcoin conference in Miami earlier this year that Fink’s decision not to allocate funding toward Bitcoin is “deeply political."
A venture capitalist who co-founded PayPal, Thiel also took aim at the ESG movement for which Fink is perhaps most closely associated.
Thiel described Fink as part of “the finance gerontocracy that runs the country through whatever silly virtue-signaling slash hate factory term like ESG they have, versus what I would call, what we have to think of as a revolutionary youth movement."
The billionaire has become an increasingly influential figure on the right and has used his wealth to back conservative populists. He invested at least $10 million in a super PAC that supported J.D. Vance in the Republican nomination for Senate in Ohio. Thiel is also backing Blake Masters in his bid to become the GOP Senate nominee in Arizona.
BlackRock has additionally become one of the targets of new legislation by Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) that seeks to rein in the power over corporations wielded by the biggest asset managers, such as Fink’s firm.
Sullivan’s Investor Democracy is Expected Act would give more power to passive investors who invest their money in mutual and exchange-traded funds by requiring that money managers, such as BlackRock, vote proxies based on their clients’ wishes rather than the firm at large. Doing so would curb the power of money managers to penalize fossil fuel companies, for example, which are discouraged under ESG standards.
Cruz, speaking Tuesday, hit at Fink for how much power BlackRock exercises through passive investors' mutual and ETF funds. He accused Fink of advocating climate action in order to appeal to the “New York country club” crowd.
“Larry Fink is not using his own money to vote as a shareholder,” Cruz said. “What Larry Fink is doing is taking your shares and my shares and [those of] millions of little old ladies who’ve invested in funds, and he’s aggregating that vast amount of capital, and he’s decided to vote not to maximize their returns because apparently, his fiduciary duty to customers is not a top priority. He’s voting instead on his politics.”
This year, Fink used his annual letter to CEOs to defend BlackRock from accusations that it is “woke.” He said that the elevation of stakeholder capitalism is an improvement on traditional business models.
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“Stakeholder capitalism is not about politics. It is not a social or ideological agenda. It is not ‘woke.’ It is capitalism, driven by mutually beneficial relationships between you and the employees, customers, suppliers, and communities your company relies on to prosper,” Fink said. “This is the power of capitalism.”
The Washington Examiner reached out to Fink and BlackRock for comment.