Federalist Society notebook: ‘Woke corporations’ may stick around despite opposition

fed soc panel esg
Panelists mentioned being ready for ESG to remain a key part of corporate decision-making.

Perhaps there was no place more appropriate for a conservative group’s assessment of “woke corporations” than a resort at Walt Disney World, as Gov. Ron DeSantis leads his culture war against companies like Disney that pursue such policies.

However, the Governor seemed barely on the minds of panelists for The Federalist Society’s Florida Chapters Conference. 

The discussion focused more on whether considering environmental, social, governance (ESG) criteria was legal and whether it was good for business. While the practices could end, as we know them, under political pressure at some point, panelists mentioned being ready for ESG to remain a key part of corporate decision-making.

“The large institutional investors, the sort of ‘Big Three,’ BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street, increasingly are the driving force behind much of the corporate engagement with ESG,” said Jesse Barrett, a partner with SouthBank Legal. “A lot of that just comes from the vast assets that they control.”

That’s about $20 trillion in assets between the three. With the purse strings comes the power to influence corporations in which they invest. 

“Of all of the votes at shareholder meetings of S&P 500 companies, currently 25% of those are voted by the Big Three,” Barrett said. “Estimates are that in the next 20 years, if trends continue, that would be 40%.”

That’s led to actions taken by companies they may not have done otherwise.

“Companies like Apple and Disney, which you wouldn’t call conservative companies, they have had proposals that they supported voted down, and instead they’ve been forced to do … gender equity audits and pay disparity studies and things of that nature,” Barrett said.

While Republican state governments like Florida’s pursued divestment strategies, at the federal level, the Clayton Antitrust Act could be used because of the cross-ownership and perceived coordinated activity between the Big Three firms.

Of course, sometimes the political topic of the day isn’t new, it’s just treated in a new way. Such is the case here, according to Kevin O’Connor, Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer for Carrier.

“When I left the Bush administration in 2009, I pulled United Technologies’ annual report,” O’Connor said. “We had greenhouse gas emissions, we had zero waste to landfills, we had water consumption, we had diversity and inclusion, we had governance. We had all the pillars. The difference is people didn’t really care as much.”

He said that for years, a group of nuns would come to these shareholder meetings and make their case for ESG policies, which the companies could, to a degree, afford to ignore because the nuns were such a small percentage of the shareholders. Now those concerns are the concerns of these big institutional investors, so companies are listening and acting. 

“I think from the in-house (counsel) perspective, those are voices we have to listen to,” O’Connor said. “Whether we like it or not, and whether we think that what they’re doing is in the best interests of all our shareholder, they are (also) shareholders, and shareholder primacy says you listen to your shareholders. 

“In the old days, your shareholders said to make money. Now, they’re saying save the world, but they’re still our shareholders. Whether saving the world’s going to return capital to them is for them to weigh.”

Or, executives can stick to their guns opposing what shareholders advocate, including initiatives that prioritize minority groups.

“A lot of ESG is now aimed at getting companies to flagrantly violate the law, and they’re doing it in plain sight,” said Ashley Keller, partner and co-founder of Keller Postman LLC. “There are so many examples that we wouldn’t have time to list them all here.

“You’ve seen multiple illustrations of companies flagrantly discriminating on the basis of race in the name of equity. I don’t care if 51% of your shareholders tell you to do that, you need to push back and say, ‘No, that’s illegal, it violates the civil rights laws, and those are good laws.’ We support those laws as a society. We don’t think that you should have racial quotas.” 

Wes Wolfe

Wes Wolfe is a reporter who's worked for newspapers across the South, winning press association awards for his work in Georgia and the Carolinas. He lives in Jacksonville and previously covered state politics, environmental issues and courts for the News-Leader in Fernandina Beach. You can reach Wes at [email protected]litics.com and @WesWolfeFP. Facebook: facebook.com/wes.wolfe


  • Thom Dougless Ameritrade

    February 5, 2023 at 5:26 am

    Business has gotten off their prime directive to make money and will suffer greatly for it. It’s like the driver of a car with 3 passingers taking the advice of the majority (2 out of the 3) passingers to drive the car off a cliff. Idiots.

    • cassandra

      February 5, 2023 at 10:34 am

      Wrong. It’s like “2 out of the 3” taking the keys away from the drunk driver who’s headed over the cliff.

      The Business Roundtable CEOs now recognize that long-term profits depend on meeting the needs of *ALL* stakeholders. ESG and DEI are what shareholders and customers demand. It’s the Free Market. Desantis is trying to control the market to the detriment of shareholders. Just watch the ‘Invisible Hand’ smack his big ugly decaying head.

    • Mr. Haney

      February 6, 2023 at 6:01 pm

      Since when is it up to the government to dictate how a business is to make money?

      • Dr. Franklin Waters

        February 8, 2023 at 1:53 pm

        Since Republicans decided that “Small Government” is just a marketing term, but in reality all they care about is power for powers sake.

        The current Republican party is absolutely sickening.
        Reagan is rolling in his grave.

  • Elliott Offen

    February 5, 2023 at 9:43 am

    Woke is just the bare minimum of how people should treat each other in a civilized society. This is good for business, not bad. Only the greedy hogs, flim flam artists, and the stupid Republican voters that they grift off of don’t like it. And of course Republicans don’t like it because they are the party of exploitation and the rich.

  • ScienceBLVR

    February 5, 2023 at 10:34 am

    Please let Ms. Keller know, there is no such thing as,”…so many examples, there wouldn’t be time to list them” If you got ‘em, Kelly, let’s hear ‘em! What happened to freedom in this country? If I, as a Boomer Liberal, want to invest my money in companies, with ESG priorities, who support my interests, where’s the beef? Sometimes, there is something more important than greed, profit and money.
    Some of us still want to save the world… and are part of the 40% who actually invest in the market.

    • Mac Wiseman

      February 5, 2023 at 1:52 pm

      As a boomer you should know better than to be a liberal. Son your parents and grandparents fought real battles in WW1 & WW2. Neither would look favorably on your fictional woke fake battle to “save the world”. But then you were always the odd fellow in every group. Dont get mad, calm yourself by taking a drive in your virtuous feel good electric car. Carry on and live your fake dream Sir. And by the way us normal kids sure enjoyed beating up on you in high school. Theres always an oddfellow or two like you in every croud.

      • Joe Corsin

        February 5, 2023 at 2:05 pm

        👆 Narcissistic psychopath

      • Tom

        February 5, 2023 at 4:32 pm

        And all this time I thought our parents and grandparents fought so we could be free to do and think as we wished. Thanks for straightening that one out, you arrogant bastard.

        • Mac Wiseman

          February 5, 2023 at 8:08 pm

          Your grandparents would whip your narrow @55 if they were still alive and knew about your leftist wrong thinking homertestical lifestyle and you know I’m right Tomasina.

          • Tom

            February 6, 2023 at 3:22 pm

            Arrogant and a comedian – two for the price of one. Next you’ll be telling me that trickle down economics work and trump is not a moron.

          • Too bad

            February 6, 2023 at 5:49 pm

            Mac I’m afraid the only thing being whipped here is your your bank account lol

      • Too bad

        February 6, 2023 at 5:43 pm

        Too bad your dreams of a football career went downhill now you work as a mechanic in a small town you can never leave lol

      • Mr. Haney

        February 6, 2023 at 6:02 pm

        Liberals fought and won WW2 comrade. Conservatives wanted to side with the Nazis.

  • nail

    February 5, 2023 at 10:40 am

    DeSantis who refused to divest from Russian investments and lost 350 million of the FL retirement system… BlackRock said: “We are surprised by the Florida CFO’s decision given the strong returns BlackRock has delivered to Florida.”
    No one in Patronis’s office raised concerns about BlackRock’s performance, they were pleased with the performance. it added: “We are disturbed by the emerging trend of political initiatives like this.” So it is a political difference. It’s sorry times in FL when has no environmental, social and governing principles to guide investment. Red tide could make FL a fortune.

    Florida, DeSantis yank billions in investments from ‘woke’ BlackRock over ESG investing. Yet “DeSantis’ lawyers were forced by the court to define “woke.” The lead lawyer described it as “The belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.” Not according to DeSantis. “Woke means anything that pisses DeSantis off as he pours gasoline on the fires of bigotry, racism, transphobia and homophobia by establishing policies that censor and whitewash FL. (Instead of “The free state of Florida” we now hear the “Woke” precursor to every DeSantis sentence. Is there a certain amount of time he must use a word before his lowest common denominators repeat, and repeat again as they were told to?

  • cassandra

    February 5, 2023 at 1:49 pm

    Desantis is basing financial decisions on ESG– not investment returns. This is not only incompetent, but must break a regulation or ethical standard requiring that Desantis act only to maximize profits on state investments? Lawyers? Desantis’ divestment from well-performing ESG companies in favor of lower performing companies must be investigated. He is not acting in Florida’s best interest.

  • Elliott Offen

    February 5, 2023 at 2:08 pm

    Republicans are anti-government yet they occupy seats in government. These empty suits just take up space so that no progress can be made in the nation. Shame on their voters for being stupid enough to vote for those cartoon characters. All of this only makes the rich more wealthy so the trailer neanderthals voting for these hogs are the dumbest people in human history. Money doesn’t trickle down.

Comments are closed.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Kelly Hayes, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Andrew Wilson, Wes Wolfe, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

Sign up for Sunburn