Missouri Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick on Monday defended his leadership role in a nonprofit organization that an investigation by The New York Times found was working to punish companies that try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Fitzpatrick, a Republican candidate for state auditor, is the national vice chair of the Shawnee, Kansas-based State Financial Officers Foundation. The investigation published Friday detailed a coordinated effort by the Republican foundation to block climate change action on state and federal levels and withhold tax dollars from banking institutions like Goldman Sachs, BlackRock, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley that have intentionally cut back on their dealings with coal companies.
Fitzpatrick, who was not named in the investigation, disputed the Times’ characterization of the organization. He painted the foundation’s efforts as a response to a push by Democrats to embrace environmental, social and governance priorities, commonly referred to as ESG. He said the Biden administration has started “promulgating rules that have advanced this issue of ESG.”
“This is something that was started by the left side of the political spectrum using this medium to advance their causes,” he said. “And what we’re doing is simply a reaction to that and saying, ‘No, we’re not going to tolerate asset managers using our capital to... advance these causes that the people whose money they’re managing don’t agree with.’”
The Times investigation found that the foundation, which includes 20 Republican state treasurers across the country, has used its power to promote oil and gas industry interests and to push back against efforts by the Biden administration to expedite the country’s transition away from the two industries.
For example, Riley Moore, West Virginia’s state treasurer, announced last week that several major financial institutions would be prohibited from state contracts with the state because they were reducing their investments in coal.
Fitzpatrick said Monday that he would remain a member of the foundation. He said he doesn’t view the group’s efforts as promoting oil and gas interests. He said it was instead pushing back against the federal government who he said has put pressure on banks to promote environmental causes.
State Rep. Emily Weber, a Kansas City Democrat, said it was “disappointing but not surprising to see Republican elected officials putting politics over the long term interest of Missourians.”
“Climate change is real, that’s a hard fact,” she said. “The slower we are to respond to climate change, the more damage it will cause.”
In May 2021, Fitzpatrick, along with 14 other GOP state treasurers, threatened to remove their state’s assets from banks that “refuse to lend or invest in coal, oil and natural gas companies.”
The treasurers said the threat was in response to efforts by the Biden administration to get banks to help reduce U.S. carbon emissions.
In a letter to President Joe Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry, the treasurers accused the president of trying to “bully corporations into curtailing legal activities.”
“As the chief financial officers of our respective states, we entrust banks and financial institutions with billions of our taxpayers’ dollars,” the letter said. “It is only logical that we will give significant weight to the fact that an institution engaged in tactics that will harm the people whose money they are handling before entering into or extending any contract.”