(The Center Square) – The state of Florida is taking action against the communist country of China and “woke corporations” operating in the state, Gov. Ron DeSantis says.
The state will investigate its holdings in Chinese companies and “retake control of its shareholder proxy voting from ideology-crazed investment funds,” the governor said.
DeSantis made the announcement after holding a meeting with two other State Board of Administration trustees, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Attorney General Ashley Moody. All three comprise the Board of Trustees and have ultimate oversight over the SBA, its two chief officials and more than 200 professional investment and administrative support staff.
The three trustees voted to make several significant policy changes impacting how the SBA invests the proceeds of the state’s retirement system investment plan and over 30 funds the SBA is tasked with overseeing by state statute.
The governor, Patronis and Moody voted to revoke all proxy voting authority that had previously been given to outside fund managers, clarifying that all fund managers should act solely in the financial interest of the state’s funds. They also announced that they would be conducting a survey of all of the investments of the Florida Retirement System to determine how many assets Florida has in Chinese companies.
“If you look at how these major companies behave when faced with Chinese disapproval, they censor what the CCP tells them to censor and we see groveling apologies,” DeSantis said. “Go back a generation, and the idea of the American elites was, ‘If we allow China into the WTO and give them most favored nation status, that will make China more like us.’ This experiment has failed and it has endangered our nation’s national and economic security.”
When the legislature returns in January, he wants them to make statutory changes to prevent the state from using taxpayer dollars to invest in China and to look into ways to bring jobs to Florida instead of goods being manufactured in China.
“I also think that our country as a whole, but certainly Florida, would like to see more production and manufacturing re-shored and we would be a great place to do that,” DeSantis said.
The governor’s office said that by Florida “retaking control of the state pension fund’s proxy voting from outside fund managers who may pursue social ideologies inconsistent with the state’s values or the financial interests of the state’s investments, and by determining the state’s exposure to Chinese investments,” Florida’s fiscal footing will be strengthened.
The trustees’ vote also sends a message “to those in corporate America who prop up a genocidal, authoritarian, imperialist regime that they will not do so with Floridians’ money,” the governor added.
“For far too long, the communist regime in China has attempted to infiltrate our financial and educational institutions,” Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez said in a statement applauding the trustees’ decisions, which she says will “curb China’s investment in industries critical to our national security and protect Floridians from the dangers posed by the Chinese Communist Party.“
Patronis said, “A sad reality is that too many federal leaders for too long have been missing in action when it has come to holding China accountable. As Americans got our cheap goods, the Chinese government wasn’t playing by the rules when it came to intellectual property or trade. Meanwhile, they’ve been busy buying influence in Hollywood and Washington. Unfortunately, between COVID and the supply chain issues, we’ve seen how reliant our country has become on China.”
He added that limiting the state’s exposure to China was “not only good for our country, but it is the financially prudent thing to do for our state.”
Moody said, “Chinese government control and influence over businesses operating in China should be a source of concern for anyone investing there. As fiduciaries, we should understand these risks and ensure they are being evaluated by the Florida Retirement System.”
The votes taken by the trustees build upon previous actions taken earlier this year by the governor “to combat woke corporate ideology and malign foreign influence.”
In August, DeSantis placed Ben & Jerry’s parent company Unilever on the state’s List of Scrutinized Companies that Boycott Israel after it announced it would remove its products and prohibit the sale of its ice cream in Judea and Samaria.
In June, the governor signed legislation to protect Florida’s higher education institutions and government from foreign influence and to combat foreign espionage. The legislature passed a bill, which is now law, to strengthen foreign financial connection vetting and disclosure requirements for entities seeking taxpayer-funded grants or contracts from state agencies or political subdivisions.
The law also requires greater scrutiny of research grant applicants, foreign applicants for research positions, and foreign travel or activities of employees of major research institutions, and foreign donation disclosure requirements. Universities and colleges must now disclose foreign donations and grants of $50,000 or more to the state, and state agencies and political subdivisions must report foreign donations and grants of $50,000 or more to the state, according to the law.
The state of Florida and public entities in the state are also prohibited from entering into agreements with seven countries of concern including Russia, PRC, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Syria, and Venezuela, according to the law.
Another new law made the theft and trafficking of trade secrets a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. Individuals attempting to sell stolen trade secrets will face a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison, among other provisions.