KKR is no longer listed among the “friends of SFOF sponsors” on the website of the State Financial Officers Foundation, which has been accused of active involvement in the anti-ESG movement sweeping across the US.
According to its website, SFOF’s mission is to “drive fiscally sound public policy, by partnering with key stakeholders, and educating Americans on the role of responsible financial management in a free market economy”.
Among its financial officers are Texas Comptroller Glen Hegar, West Virginia Treasurer Riley Moore, Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Yee, and Kentucky Treasurer Allison Ball. All four have been outspoken in their criticisms of ESG, and Hegar and Moore have implemented laws blacklisting financial institutions that appear to boycott the fossil fuel sector.
The foundation has taken a strong stance against ESG on social media and appears to be supporting the pushback against it, which has caused concern across the responsible investment community.
In June, RI revealed that Federated Hermes, Invesco, Fidelity Investment and Wells Fargo are listed among its “sponsors”, while JPMorgan and KKR were flagged as “friends of SFOF sponsors”.
According to the website: “SFOF corporate partners are a vital part of our organisation. Our donors and sponsors make an annual, non-refundable commitment to support the State Financial Officers Foundation (SFOF) and its activities. A part of the partnership includes sponsorship of our national meetings.”
It continues: “Our corporate sponsors and state government leaders work together to provide the best possible free-market solutions for the states. At our national meetings, corporate partners sit and participate side-by-side with our state leaders.”
Documents recently provided to RI give details of the sponsorships.
Federated Hermes is one of four gold sponsors, along with Mastercard, Kansas-based employee benefits software firm iTedium, and 1792 Exchange, an obscure organisation that appears to be linked to right-wing US causes.
According to the SFOF documents, gold sponsors pay $50,000 in return for benefits including “sponsorship of opening dinner, column in e-newsletter, and one 30-40 minute virtual private mtg”.
Invesco and Fidelity are listed as silver sponsors, which per the document entails a payment of $25,000. Benefits include one 30 to 45 minute virtual private meeting, potential to contribute a speaker to panel discussion, and sponsorship of “e-blasts”. Other high-profile sponsors in the category include SAP, Visa and Kroll, as well as The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank closely aligned with former president Donald Trump.
Bronze level sponsorship comes at a price of $15,000, which includes invitations to SFOF special events, distribution in conference swag bags, and logo on digital agenda. Wells Fargo and Clearwater Analytics are the big names out of the eight bronze sponsors.
Finally, “friends of SFOF sponsors” – which includes JPMorgan and, until recently, KKR – are apparently expected to pay $10,000 in return for benefits including “logo on digital agenda, recognition on event web page, recognition on-site signage, distribution material at conference registration, and discounted registration rate for additional guests”. There are now only four “friends” listed on SFOF’s website.
Requests for information
Neither SFOF nor any of the financial firms referenced here responded to a question from RI as to whether the payments were on a one-off, annual or per conference basis.
At the time of RI’s initial article, a spokesperson for KKR said: “KKR supports SFOF and its peer organisations NAST because they provide valuable education on responsible state treasury programmes and related financial practices, policies and education. Our membership in organisations that support state treasuries does not translate into an endorsement of every policy position.”
On SFOF’s website, however, KKR is no longer listed among the “friends of SFOF sponsors”.
The private equity giant declined to comment in response to RI’s request for information on when and why the change occurred.
RI also approached the other financial institutions to enquire whether they expect to renew or continue their sponsorship level in the coming year, and/or whether they have any plans to review their sponsorship, particularly in light of the recent anti-ESG push by SFOF.
Wells Fargo and JPMorgan were also asked about the recent decision by West Virginia Treasurer Moore, who is a member of SFOF, to ban their organisations from entering into state banking contracts in West Virginia, and whether they had raised the issue to SFOF and/or it could affect their sponsorship. According to SFOF’s website, Moore won the “Rising Star Award” at the foundation’s 2021 meeting.
A spokesperson for Invesco told RI: “Regarding SFOF, Invesco was among the sponsors of a conference of current and potential clients.”
They later added: “With regard to sponsoring SFOF in the future… we continuously review sponsorships of conferences and events but have yet to make any decisions about SFOF’s conferences for next year.”
A spokesperson for Wells Fargo told RI: “Wells Fargo engages a number of organizations with members from both political parties who hold leadership roles at the state and federal levels. Our business and enterprise leaders meet with these organizations to learn about and address important issues facing their constituents and communities. While we may not agree with every position they take, our mutual engagement is important for our company, employees, and customers.”
Fidelity, Federated Hermes and JPMorgan declined to comment.