THE ANTI-WOKE INVESTORS
Bloomberg Businessweek|November 15, 2021
New ETFs are pitching themselves to conservatives mad at corporate America
Pat Regnier

Dan Grant is fed up with “wokeness.” He’s sick of such companies as Nike Inc. and Coca-Cola Co. taking liberal positions on social justice issues. “People are tired of woke companies, tired of wokeness overall, and tired of companies putting their social justice activism ahead of generating profits for their shareholders,” Grant says, sitting in a small Nashville office festooned with dinosaur fossils and a pet Australian snake-necked turtle named Melvin.

The former JPMorgan Chase & Co. banker is betting that the 74 million people who, like him, voted for Donald Trump are mad about it, too—mad enough to buy shares of his company’s exchange-traded funds, which invest in companies Grant and his colleagues deem unwoke. That means they lean right politically or are at least neutral in their activism and donations. Grant is chief executive officer of 2ndVote Advisers, a small group of politically conservative money managers pushing against what they see as a stampede toward left- leaning, socially conscious investing on Wall Street.

Last year, 2ndVote Advisers began rolling out a series of conservative-themed ETFs—focused on issues such as guns, abortion, and censorship— that Grant has been touting on right-wing talk radio. “We’re saying enough is enough,” Grant told Sebastian Gorka, the bombastic former Trump adviser who started a radio show after he was fired from the White House. “We’re telling these CEOs to stop doing what the left is pressuring them to do.”

There’s a lot of money to be made in ETFs, which can be bought like stocks by anyone with a brokerage account. So far this year more than $720 billion has flowed into the funds, according to Bloomberg Intelligence, with about $27 billion directed at funds that consider environmental, social, or governance (ESG) issues. Grant sees an opening to tap into the Trump vote by offering investments that express a different set of values.

In December, 2ndVote will launch an ETF perfectly attuned to the latest Trumpian cultural grievance: a “First Amendment fund” called the American Freedoms ETF. Composed of companies with permissive speech policies, the fund excludes platforms such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter, which the former president claims unfairly “censor” him. Grant insists the fund’s purpose isn’t political. Rather, it’s an expression of economist Milton Friedman’s dictum that a company’s sole responsibility is to make money. “What I would say to Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg is they should focus on profitability, not on social justice activism like Black Lives Matter and climate alarmism,” says Grant. “I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes if Trump gets reelected.”

Grant isn’t the first money manager to target the MAGA masses. “They’re kind of copying me,” complains Hal Lambert, founder of Fort Worth-based Point Bridge Capital, which rolled out its GOP Stock Tracker ETF, better known by its ticker MAGA, in 2017. Both firms also compete with the American Conservative Values ETF, started last year by Ridgeline Research. Despite bickering over which fund is the more authentically conservative, none holds assets in excess of $35 million. For all that Trump has suffused American life, the world of ETFs has so far been resistant.

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