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Indiana pays anti-ESG firm to advise on state pension funds

Vivek Ramaswamy wears a suit, standing on a stage with "America Fest 2022" displayed behind him. The stage is lit in red, white and blue lights. Ramaswamy holds a microphone and shakes his opposite hand in a fist.
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Vivek Ramaswamy at the 2022 AmericaFest in Phoenix, Arizona. AmericaFest is a conference put on by the conservative nonprofit Turning Point USA.

The state hired a company to help it avoid investing state pension funds in financial institutions with ESGs. These are policies that consider the environmental or social impacts of their investments. A watchdog group said Strive has ties to the political push against ESGs.

The Indiana Public Retirement System (INPRS) has a contract of no more than $150,000 with Strive Advisory.

Among other things, the contract states Strive will review INPRS investment policy statement and how Indiana can ensure a financial institution’s asset managers and shareholders act in a way that’s consistent with that policy. In an email statement, INPRS said the agency didn't take other bids for this type of consultant work.

Jesse Coleman is a researcher with Documented — a watchdog group that tracks corporate influence on society and politics. He said some of Strive’s employees are involved in the political campaign against ESG investments while also seeking to profit off of it.

“By taking the money that is divested from other asset managers due to this anti ESG campaign. And then what they're seeking to do is manage those assets themselves," Coleman said.

Strive’s co-founder, Vivek Ramaswamy, is an entrepreneur known for his “anti-woke” activism and is running for president in the 2024 election. The Indiana Capital Chronicle reported the state is paying him $4,000 an hour for consultant work.

READ MORE: Anti-ESG bill passes Indiana House with fewer losses expected for state pensioners

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Coleman said Strive has reached out to at least nine states and there’s evidence some of them have started to invest with the company.

“Which is really odd because Strive has really only been around for a little less than a year at this point. And usually companies that manage state funds like pensions need a really long and sterling track record," he said.

State lawmakers have put forth a bill, House Bill 1008, that would help the state cut ties with financial institutions that they say are discriminating against Indiana coal companies and gun makers through ESG policies.

The bill originally would have cost state pensioners about $6.7 billion worth of returns over the next decade. But amendments to the bill brought that loss down to about $5.5 million.

Strive declined an interview.

This story has been updated.

Rebecca is our energy and environment reporter. Contact her at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

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Rebecca Thiele covers statewide environment and energy issues.