BlackRock’s spotlight at the Republican debate is exactly why the firm has been scrambling to defend itself

Sean Gallup/Getty Images, Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The debate on Wednesday spotlighted the GOP’s years-long attacks against BlackRock.BlackRock CEO Larry Fink said some candidates spread misinformation at the debate.His firm launched an offensive online, targeting claims about energy and ESG investing.

Last night, presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy referred to Larry Fink as “king of the woke industrial complex, the ESG movement, the CEO of BlackRock, the most powerful company in the world” on stage at the fourth Republican presidential debate.

I don’t use ChatGPT, but my sense is it would spit out exactly that quote if I asked it what Ramaswamy and his colleagues think of Fink and may say during the debate. It feels inevitable, and a little too on the nose, after a few years of Republican lawmakers and state officials trying to turn BlackRock into the ultimate symbol of a modern form of capitalism that makes them uncomfortable.

Ramaswamy, the biotech entrepreneur who founded an asset management firm marketed as the antithesis to money managers that embrace environmental, social, and governance factors in their investment decision-making, criticized fellow candidate Nikki Haley for what he said was a closeness with BlackRock. Fink is “now supporting” Haley, he said, “and to say that doesn’t affect her is false.”

Fink responded in a LinkedIn post on Wednesday morning: “Despite multiple claims in the debate to the contrary, I haven’t endorsed any candidate for president this year. I’ve met with at least five of the candidates in this campaign cycle.” He often meets with policymakers to learn about policy implications for BlackRock’s clients, he said. “That’s my job.”

The debate crystallized the Republican party’s years-long attacks against BlackRock. More than a dozen officials, including state treasurers, have taken aim at BlackRock’s ESG embrace in recent years — at times appearing to misunderstand how an asset management firm is structured — and pulled some investments from the firm. On a national stage, this is what the GOP has been building up to. The instant rebuttals on LinkedIn and X from Fink and BlackRock, meanwhile, capture precisely the offensive position they are trying to get in.

“We make decisions based on our clients’ best interests, not political or ideological agendas. Demonizing law-abiding American companies undermines confidence in US markets and leadership,” BlackRock wrote on X Wednesday evening in a reply to an account that posts about Florida politics. “We have invested $170 billion in American public energy companies on behalf of our clients, including pipelines and power generation facilities,” the firm said in a post on X later, defending its funds’ oil and gas holdings.

I’ve been covering this push-and-pull between the public, BlackRock, and its critics in US government for Business Insider. I reported yesterday that Fink had appointed a new chief of staff, a right-hand position that puts anyone in the role in a highly visible position with public officials, clients, and other parties that BlackRock interacts with.

“The world, the markets and our industry continue to change at a rapid pace. That evolution requires that we, as a firm, engage more often and more deeply with a wider range of stakeholders and on a broader spectrum of issues,” Fink wrote in a memo that I reviewed.

The sentiment is vague but seems to point to BlackRock getting thrust into the public consciousness in a way it’s never been before and seeking to get its message out more effectively. In a more pointed company response to the backlash BlackRock has faced, it has overhauled its lobbying operation, I reported last month.

The firm is dealing with “growing pressures on our reputation and a complex set of policy challenges that are evolving daily against an especially intense and divisive political environment,” John Kelly, BlackRock’s new global head of corporate affairs, wrote in a separate memo I obtained.

During the debate, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, also running for president, and his state finance chief, Jimmy Patronis, have publicly criticized BlackRock for its embrace of sustainable investing practices. “I took $2 billion away from BlackRock,” DeSantis said, referring to Florida pulling investments from BlackRock that it previously managed. “The next president of the United States needs to be able to go to that office on day one and end ESG,” DeSantis said, appearing to think that “ESG” is some kind of national policy instead of a set of frameworks that investors use in due diligence.

“Now I know why they call this the political silly season,” Fink wrote in the LinkedIn post on Thursday.

Reach out to reporter Rebecca Ungarino with tips and feedback at [email protected].

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