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Larry Fink dismisses ‘sad’ criticism of BlackRock in Republican debate

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BlackRock chief executive Larry Fink has hit out at the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination over their attacks on the $9.1tn asset manager during Wednesday’s debate, calling the references a “sad commentary on the state of American politics”.

Both Vivek Ramaswamy and Ron DeSantis specifically referred to BlackRock in multiple attacks on Nikki Haley, who has risen in the polls and gained backing from some wealthy donors. The men sought to portray her as a pawn of secret financial interests, tying her to their critique of investing based on environmental, social and governance factors.

“BlackRock was mentioned by some candidates in last night’s debate more than inflation or the national debt. That’s a sad commentary on the state of American politics,” Fink wrote in a LinkedIn post on Thursday. “Now I know why they call this the political silly season.”

During the debate, BlackRock came up three separate times.

“Larry Fink, the king of the woke industrial complex, the ESG movement, the CEO of BlackRock, the most powerful company in the world, is now supporting Nikki Haley. And to say that doesn’t affect her is false,” said Ramaswamy, who has positioned himself as an anti-ESG champion. The biotech entrepreneur also accused Fink of “telling Exxon and Chevron they can’t drill here”.

DeSantis, who is governor of Florida, boasted that he “took $2bn away from BlackRock”, referring to the state’s decision to move some investments to another asset manager.

Fink said in the LinkedIn post that he had met at least five presidential candidates but not endorsed any of them. “I meet with policymakers all the time to understand the implications for our clients,” he wrote. “That’s my job.”

He also took issue with the claims about energy companies, saying “BlackRock clients have more than $170bn invested in American energy companies” and touted last month’s $550mn investment by a BlackRock fund in Occidental Petroleum’s carbon capture project.

BlackRock and Fink have become a punch bag for Republican politicians over the past two years as part of their larger campaign to tap into “anti-woke” concerns about programmes to promote diversity and address climate change. Eighteen states have passed some form of anti-ESG law, and Texas and West Virginia among others are boycotting BlackRock funds.

In response, the world’s largest money manager has revamped its public policy arm under newly arrived global corporate affairs chief John Kelly.

“It is clear we need to change how we are organised to match our policy threats,” Kelly wrote to staff last month. The asset manager has also boosted its contracts with outside lobbying firms that work on Capitol Hill from four to seven in recent weeks, according to disclosure statements.

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