See Also: Larry Fink (Person)
BlackRock is the world’s largest investment management company, with nearly $7.5 trillion in managed assets as of January 2020.  In April 2020, the company was tasked by the U.S. Federal Reserve Board to oversee the Fed’s program to inject money into the corporate bond market and help direct as much as $750 billion in “lender of last resort” funding from the Federal Reserve for businesses struggling during the 2020 COVID-19-induced economic crisis. 
BlackRock’s role with the Federal Reserve was criticized by dozens of conservative political and corporate leaders. In one open letter, such a group urged BlackRock and CEO Larry Fink to rescind a January 2020 letter to shareholders announcing that BlackRock was increasing its politically left-of-center Environmental, Social, & Governance (ESG) investments. This investment strategy places ESG stakeholder interests on par with general shareholder interests on issues such as left-leaning climate change policy.  
A 2020 Wall Street Journal editorial was titled “Larry Fink’s Political Purgatory: The BlackRock CEO can’t seem to buy progressive absolution.” The Journal’s editors wrote that even as Fink had “promised to sell coal investments,” that offer didn’t spare BlackRock from multi-city protests by “climate ultras” meant to coincide with the firm’s annual meeting for shareholders. Protests included an online flyer claiming BlackRock was “the largest or second-largest shareholder in Big Oil giants” and “the biggest single investor in the 56 companies most responsible for building new coal plants in the developing world.” 
BlackRock has also been criticized for having major investments in China, where the dictatorial government frequently commits human rights violations and offends the principles espoused by left-leaning environmentalists.  
BlackRock was founded in 1988 and went public in 1999, using its proprietary risk management technology Aladdin to attract investors. By the end of 1999, BlackRock was overseeing more than $165 billion in assets. 
Over the next decade, two acquisitions and the 2008 financial crisis put BlackRock on top of the managed assets industry. The firm purchased Merrill Lynch Investment Management in 2006 and Barclay’s Global Investors in 2009, turning BlackRock into the largest asset manager in the world. 
During this period the Federal Reserve Bank of New York enlisted BlackRock to assess the value of mortgage-backed securities held by then-failing Bear Stearns.  Bear Stearns became one of the major harbingers of the Great Recession when its investments in risky mortgages reduced it from the fifth-largest investment bank in the world to being sold to J.P. Morgan for pennies on the dollar compared to its value just a few months earlier. 
BlackRock’s involvement with the New York Federal Reserve Board provided it $30 billion in former Bear Stearns assets to manage and enhanced the firm’s worldwide credibility. The firm became the monitor for $5 trillion held on the balance sheets of large investment and real estate corporations during the financial crisis, including $5 trillion held by the government-backed mortgage firms Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. During this period BlackRock became an advisor to many organizations despite its own involvement in packaging risky securities.  
As of 2019, retirement funds accounted for two-thirds of BlackRock’s investment portfolio. Because of this, BlackRock partnered with Microsoft in 2019 to provide technological and strategic assistance to help retirees and future retirees take advantage of company 401K programs, increase savings to plan for retirement, and otherwise consider long-term financial strategies. 
As of May 2020, BlackRock had 70 offices located in 30 countries. Its major clients have included, but are not limited to, the Bank of Ireland, AIG, the Bank of Greece, and UBS. The company regularly partners with international corporations like Google and Morgan Stanley. In the firm’s 2019 annual report CEO Larry Fink stated BlackRock would be heavily investing in China because of trillions of dollars in potential assets to be managed. 
In May 2020, PNC Financial Services Group withdrew its $17 billion investment in BlackRock, ending a 25-year relationship. The move was interpreted by market observers as an effort by PNC to keep more cash on hand to prevent financial losses during the COVID-19-induced economic crisis and provide PNC with the potential to buy other firms should the opportunity arise. While PNC’s prior investment consisted of 22 percent of BlackRock’s public shares, and reduced Blackrock’s stock value by more than two percent, the departure of PNC capital was not considered harmful to BlackRock’s future. 
One of BlackRock’s most impactful technology and investment developments was the purchase of iShares from Barclay’s in 2012.  The program manages exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, which have lower investor costs, tax advantages, and overall greater investment gain than conventional mutual funds.   iShares ETFs helped BlackRock exceed $7 trillion in assets under management in 2019 and drove investor confidence in the company’s stock at the beginning of 2020. 
Also, in 2020, BlackRock was retained as the manager of the Thrift Savings Plan investment portfolio, which then held an estimated $600 billion in retirement investments for millions of military members and federal employees. 
BlackRock’s Aladdin investment assessment tool is used by government agencies and private organizations alike, such as the U.S. Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve. 
The BlackRock Investment Institute
The BlackRock Investment Institute provides industry-leading insights and economic analysis and weekly analyses of major occurrences in the market. For example, during the week of May 11, 2020, the Institute assessed how a German court’s demand that the European Central Bank justify trillions of dollars in purchases designed to keep the continent’s economy afloat during the pandemic-related economic crisis would impact both the future independence of central banks as well as the future of European bonds.  
BlackRock also assesses the impacts of elections, economic circumstances, and other major goings-on in the world. 
BlackRock’s engagement in public policy takes several forms.
BlackRock maintains a Political Action Committee (PAC) that provides bipartisan donations.  According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, BlackRock-affiliated PACs gave approximately $450,000 to candidates and candidate committees during the 2016 federal election cycle. This included equal $30,000 donations to the four large-party affiliated congressional committees: National Republican Congressional Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Individual members of Congress from both parties received smaller donations. 
This giving behavior was repeated in 2018, again with roughly $450,000 given from affiliated PACs and four $30,000 donations to each of the major congressional committees. As of May 27, 2020, the giving pattern appeared on pace to match the two prior election cycles. 
In addition to political spending through its affiliated political action committees, BlackRock’s Viewpoints website examines various investment-related regulatory and policy matters, such as 403(b) retirement funds, securities, and money market rates on the London, England, market – known as LIBOR.  BlackRock also provides public comment on Securities and Exchange Commission proposals and policies. 
BlackRock publicly lists its members in more than 20 trade associations, from the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce to the American Council for Renewable Energy. The company pays at least $25,000 for its membership in each organization. 
BlackRock has founded several charitable efforts and organizations since 2008, when the company began to assist people hurt by the real estate crash.  The BlackRock Foundation was created in 2020 to coordinate several social change goals, such as helping low-income people save money, assist women and immigrants with achieving higher incomes through technology-related jobs, and planting 20 million trees in India as a backup source of income for local workers.  BlackRock also funds social entrepreneurship to fight international poverty. 
BlackRock’s 2008 charitable initiative, its further 2013 work through the BlackRock Charitable Fund, and its newest foundation were all funded through shares of PennyMac Financial Services, Inc. The creation of the BlackRock Foundation came from $539 million in PennyMac shares. 
Left-of-center Environmental, Social, & Governance (ESG) portfolios have become a major part of BlackRock’s non-profit and investor portfolios. In his January 2020 letter to CEOs, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink wrote that his company “was a founding member of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures” and was a signatory to both United Nations and Vatican documents related to climate change action. BlackRock is also part of the Climate Finance Partnership with other leading private entities and nations such as France and Germany. 
The 2020 letter letter to CEOs from Fink regarding BlackRock’s ESG priorities is just one example of many. In a February 2019 memo the firm promoted ESG-targeted investments as “the future of investing.” 
BlackRock estimates that between 2013 and 2018, ESG-oriented mutual fund investments rose from less than $400 billion to approximately $1.8 trillion, and that exchange traded funds in the sector grew from almost nothing to approximately $400 billion.  BlackRock claims a $60 billion platform of ESG-focused investments, including $40 billion invested in so-called clean energy, and $500 billion invested in other ESG-focused efforts. 
BlackRock has announced that significant portions of its investment portfolios are being transitioned into ESG, especially environmental investments.  The company has several boards and senior staffers whose jobs are partially or totally dedicated to ESG work.  BlackRock claims to be running on 100 percent renewable energy within its U.S. operations. 
The company released a 2019 report advising firms on opportunities to move beyond being pushed in the direction of ESG-focused investing by activists or political pressure, and into a policy of proactively incorporating ESG values into a firm’s strategic goals. 
BlackRock has also endorsed the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. 
In 2021, 10 groups committed to investing a total of $250 million in BlackRock, Inc. for the purposes of investing in green energy infrastructure.  Investors include the Quadrivium Foundation and the Grantham Environmental Trust.  Part of the fundraising included a $112.5 million fund for “catalytic capital,” which absorbs investors’ losses to encourage other investors to invest in the project, despite a potential lack of return on investment. Financial Times reported that Kathryn Murdoch, the co-founder of Quadrivium, said the “catalytic capital” would “leverage much bigger players” to invest in the project. 
INFLUENCING EXXON’S ELECTION OF DIRECTORS
In May 2021, Engine No. 1, a California-based hedge fund which engages in environmental activism, nominated four candidates to Exxon’s board of directors to agitate for environmentalist reforms. Exxon disagreed with the nominations because the candidates did not meet the board’s standards. BlackRock threw its support behind three of the Engine No. 1 nominees: Gregory Goff, Kaisa Hietala, and Alexander Karsner.
With 6.7 percent of Exxon’s stock, BlackRock at that time was the second-largest shareholder in the company and wielded significant power over the corporation’s decisions; on top of that, it was more willing than the other two major shareholders to advocate for the elections of investors. Two of No. 1 Engine’s nominees—Goff and Hietala—were successfully elected to the board after BlackRock’s intervention.
After BlackRock’s support of environmentalist hedge fund Engine No. 1’s successful election of two directors to the board of Exxon Mobile Corp, 31 business owners, managers, and CEOs signed a letter to Larry Fink, BlackRock’s co-founder, CEO, and board chair. The letter admonished Fink for allowing BlackRock to make business decisions based on personal, politicized interpretations of “sustainability” and “acceptable behavior.”  The letter emphasized that the role of investment management companies like BlackRock is to manage their clients’ money faithfully and to adhere to their clients’ “needs, values, and risk tolerance,” not to follow political trends and engage in activism. 
ESG Criticism from the Right
An April 15, 2020 letter from conservative leaders and right-leaning corporate CEOs urged BlackRock CEO Larry Fink to reconsider BlackRock’s ESG focus. By mixing the concerns of ESG stakeholders with those of shareholders—the latter to whom BlackRock has fiduciary duties—letter signers claimed Fink was causing three levels of harm:
- Placing left-leaning social and political goals ahead of maximizing investor earnings.
- Increasing company costs to accommodate internal ESG investments, which the signers asserted would reduce shareholder capital and shareholder returns, and harm middle-class Americans’ financial, educational, and retirement goals.
- Reducing the growth of investments. Citing the Wall Street Journal, the signers said that BlackRock’s iShares ESG funds—established in 2005 and 2006—have earned less for investors than BlackRock’s iShares’ S&P 500 index fund.
Signers also expressed concern over Fink’s endorsement of a 2019 letter from the Business Roundtable which outlined how BlackRock and other major corporations would value ESG stakeholder interests alongside shareholder interests.  A May 2020 National Review opinion piece noted that BlackRock’s ESG influence may go well beyond its direct investments and engagement—that as the largest asset management firm in the world, it can exert outsized market pressures that smaller shareholders opposed to an ESG-focus cannot. 
ESG Criticism from the Left
BlackRock’s dedication to ESG principles hasn’t protected it from criticism on the U.S. political left. The company renamed its impact funds to ESG in 2020 after being criticized for having investments in tobacco and oil.  
A May 22, 2020, editorial from the Wall Street Journal was titled “Larry Fink’s Political Purgatory: The BlackRock CEO can’t seem to buy progressive absolution.” The Journal’s editors wrote that even as Fink had “promised to sell coal investments,” that offer didn’t spare BlackRock from multi-city protests by “climate ultras” meant to coincide with the firm’s annual meeting for shareholders. 
- A “10-foot hot air balloon at BlackRock’s New York City headquarters with a banner “BlackRock: Hot Air on Climate.””
- An online flyer claiming BlackRock was “the largest or second-largest shareholder in Big Oil giants” and “the biggest single investor in the 56 companies most responsible for building new coal plants in the developing world.” 
- A “People’s Assembly on BlackRock” hosted by U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D—R.I.) and U.S. Rep. Rep. Jesús García (D—Illinois). 
BlackRock’s has also been criticized for having major investments in China, where the dictatorial government frequently commits human rights violations and offends the principles espoused by left-leaning environmentalists and ESG investing proponents.  
In September 2021, renowned left-leaning billionaire George Soros wrote an op-ed in the Wallstreet Journal criticizing Blackrock for its decision to launch a mutual fund in China, and its recommendation that investors triple their holdings of Chinese assets. According to Soros, Blackrock’s large investments in Chinese markets were bad for investors and national security because the Chinese government’s total control over private property would allow investor assets to be seized by the state at any time to strengthen Xi Xin Ping’s regime. 
Soros wrote that Blackrock had foolishly “taken the statements of Mr. Xi’s regime at face value. [Blackrock] has drawn a distinction between state-owned enterprises and privately owned companies, but that is far from reality. The regime regards all Chinese companies as instruments of the one-party state.” He also categorized the Chinese system as oppressive and dangerous, writing that “the U.S. and China are engaged in a life and death conflict between two systems of governance: repressive and democratic.” 
The Blackrock Transparency Project
The left-leaning Campaign for Accountability has criticized BlackRock through the BlackRock Transparency Project, which has accused BlackRock of violating employee rights, engaging in secretive conflict-of-interest work which leads to greater profits without transparency, and otherwise engaging in unethical corporate actions. 
The Transparency Project drew greater attention to BlackRock’s $340,000 fine ordered in 2017 by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission because BlackRock had ordered 1,000 departing employees to sign paperwork preventing the employees from financially benefiting if they reported illegal activity in line with whistleblower laws. Blackrock was accused of threating to not give those employees final compensation if they did not sign. 
The Blackrock Transparency Project also points to circumstances where BlackRock appeared to be using its influence to receive controversial benefits.  For example, BlackRock received three no-bid contracts during the 2008 real estate recession from then-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and the firm was fined $3.52 million in Germany for flawed reporting and violations of regulatory deadlines. 
The American Prospect, a left-leaning journal, highlighted some of the Transparency Project’s research in a 2018 report which asserted that BlackRock was able to protect trillions of dollars in managed assets from the post-Great Recession Dodd-Frank law’s regulatory oversight. The Prospect also reported that BlackRock managed Mexican government pension funds while owning companies in which those funds were invested. 
Larry Fink is BlackRock’s co-founder, CEO, and chair of its board.  He was a supporter of Hillary Clinton in 2016 and has repeatedly been rumored as a possible Secretary of the U.S. Treasury Department under Democratic administrations, including in 2012 under President Barack Obama; in 2016 if Clinton had won; and again in 2020 as presumed Democratic Party presidential nominee and former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign began publicly discussing possible administration officials. 
BlackRock president Rob Kapito co-founded the company in 1988 and assumed his current corporate leadership title in 2007.