Religion & Liberty Online

Inside the Fight to Bring Transparency to Woke Corporations

(Image credit: Associated Press)

The 1792 Exchange is a nonprofit whose mission is to “develop policy and resources to protect and equip nonprofits, small businesses, and philanthropy from ‘woke’ corporations.” But how effective is it?

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The fight against corporate “wokeness” is mobilizing customers and grabbing headlines across the country. From Bud Light losing its status as America’s top beer after sparking conservative ire, to Pride Month boycotts of Target costing the company billions, it’s becoming increasingly clear that right-leaning Americans are taking renewed interest in the political alignment of the country’s biggest companies. It’s the war against wokeness, and many conservatives are hoping that this type of financial pressure can push businesses away from such expressly political stances. But how can we create transparency when it comes to the partisan leanings of America’s most prominent brands?

Enter the 1792 Exchange. Founded in 2021 and named after the founding date of America’s first stock exchange, the Exchange is aimed at reporting the political stances of major corporations for the benefit of employee and customer alike. They have produced more than a thousand “Spotlight Reports” on companies ranging from AAA to Zillow, which examine brands’ reputation for discriminating against employees for religious/political beliefs, including a risk rating that measures how likely the company is to make business decisions for ideological reasons.

Is this research-based strategy the key to helping everyday Americans understand the politicization of their go-to brands? I sat down with 1792 Exchange’s president, Paul Fitzpatrick, to talk about the company’s mission, strategy, and plans for the future. Fitzpatrick, who has an MBA from Virginia’s Marymount University, is a former Hill staffer with 20-plus years of experience in the nonprofit and for-profit business sectors.

IW: Given your background in nonprofit work and your Hill tenure, when did you first realize that “woke,” agenda-driven corporations were a real threat to American enterprise? Were there any specific incidents/realizations you can look at now and see as pivotal in your mission?

PF: I worked for Xerox out of college and was at a diversity training that was pushing a very liberal agenda, so that’s a moment. During my work with the Family Research Council, that was when I became aware that corporations were putting their name behind ideological projects that I knew would divide employees and alienate customers. Corporations started offering HR benefits like “domestic partner benefits” long before such issues were in the mainstream, and they had started speaking out on more culturally divisive issues in the 1990s and early 2000s. Jump ahead to my time on Capitol Hill, and I saw two things: The first was that big business loved regulations, because they’re barriers to entry for competition—I didn’t fully realize how that worked until I went to the Hill. Second, I saw how businesses were willing to spend significant capital to push ideological ideas that have nothing to do with the business.

IW: You have a quote from author Rod Dreher on your website. Here’s another, from my recent interview with Dreher: “Big Business is one of the greatest threats to both liberty for all and to conservative principles. … I don’t believe that government, per se, is the problem—not in an era when the private sector wields so much unaccountable power over public and private life.” Looking at governmental encroachment and the ideological bias of big business, which do you think represents a more prominent threat to Americans with conservative/faith-based views?

PF: Rod Dreher thinks business is a bigger threat than government. They’re both threats—corporations are the last institutions to be targeted by the left. The labor unions are also a big funder of a lot of these policies; those are kind of the big three. You can’t overlook the Biden administration’s move to push ESGs [environmental, social, and governance investing], climate issues, and abortion, etc. These things massively increase the regulatory costs to companies—they can even quadruple those costs. It’s hard to argue that anything could influence a company more than that. Corporations can throttle the flow of information and deem something misinformation if it’s a problem to their mission. That has consequences to free speech and religion, but it also affects the flow of capital on issues like ESGs. Corporations are colluding—classic antitrust behavior—to remove fossil fuels from their portfolios. That affects people.

To bring it even closer to home, if you’re a poor person or in a developing nation, you need low-cost food and shelter. Look at Sri Lanka—they’re a failed nation. People around the world will starve to death because of ESG regulations. If you want an education, you need energy. And people in developing nations use that energy that the left doesn’t want people to use. In the First World, you don’t have the same level of poverty issues, but these decisions that companies are making and that they’re willing to put their brand behind are affecting peoples’ lives. This isn’t about bathing suits or marketing beers—these are issues that affect peoples’ lives. Corporations are a major threat when harnessed by political actors.

IW: The Exchange covers the political stances of a lot of major corporations, from AARP to Target to Zillow. To the average American who’s not familiar with the political side of big business, what’s the biggest misconception about these industries?

PF: Most Americans don’t know about the influence of major financial institutions pushing corporations to the left. Those institutions are the big pension funds, often in blue states, like CalPERS, working with asset-managing companies like Blackrock, along with proxy advisory firms and banks. They can control who’s on the board of a company or who’s a CEO. Working alongside them is the regulatory state, in our current case the Biden administration and the EPA and the SEC, or the Fed. Major financial institutions are at play here.

On top of that, you have the influence of a number of institutions like the Human Rights Campaign. Average Americans wouldn’t be aware of the massive pressure and lobbying that CEOs and corporations face from asset-managing organizations, along with the grassroots pressure they feel from the left. The right is ineffective and historically has been silent when it comes to organizations and big business. It’s only recently that we’re seeing pushback against that, like Disney and Bud Light and Target. They’ve served as case studies to educate the American people about what’s going on. When people get into our database, they’re blown away by how many are high risk. They probably would have assumed that it’s 95% lower risk. It’s amazing how many companies engage in political behavior like this.

IW: You assign corporations a risk rating based on their political stances/activism. To apply this, do you think “high risk” corporations like Disney aren’t good places for conservatives/people of faith to work at?

PF: I’m not going to tell someone where to work, but what I would say is: I do believe our database is helpful for people on both sides of the aisle to understand how much their corporation is aligned with them and willing to use its brand and capital to push on the issues. Corporations are pushing left, not right—if you’re a conservative, I think it’s wise for conservatives to look at our database and factor it in. But if conservatives leave, then those corporations get more woke.

We don’t want an employee of any political persuasion making a fuss in the business. If it’s unrelated to the business, we don’t need your ideology in the office. When it comes to pushing the corporation to do things, we need people from all political stripes to work really hard to affect the bottom line—the best thing they can do is to be a great employee. When we’re talking about public corporations, roughly three-quarters of all stock assets are tied to retirement. Fluctuations in stock prices affect peoples’ futures, especially if they have 401(K) plans. This is a threat to retirement security.

You need to ask yourself, “If my corporation is taking a political stand and there’s nothing I can do about that, then maybe it’s time to go somewhere else.” Anyone working in those corporations in this current environment should take the database as a warning—things they say in private or in public can be used to cancel them or hurt their careers. We’re not saying leave your corporation; we’re saying be aware and here’s the data.

IW: What are some of the parameters that the Exchange has set for success, and what tangible markers of success have you seen? How do we know that what you’re doing is working?

PF: We have to make sure that people are using the database. We’re hearing from people; they’re saying that “Yeah, I took it into the office or into my bank to affect our business partnership,” and the initial purpose of the database is to protect small businesses and nonprofits. We’re not a boycott database—we’re a transparency database. This is to protect and equip. It’s wise for families to do it as well as they run their little household business, and for employees—we want to equip them. We’re told financial advisers are using it as a data point; it’s not for investment purposes, but people are using it to make those kinds of decisions. People are bringing it up in questions to shareholders in public corporations. We’ve heard from corporations that want to know how they can improve their rating, or to discuss details in their ratings, and we welcome that. There have been facts about corporations that we’ve updated based on corporations talking to us. We have big corporations that aren’t happy about their risk rating, but they know that we’re not trying to put them out of business. We’re trying to push them toward neutrality so that they can serve more people and make more money.

IW: What’s next for the 1792 Exchange?

PF: We’ve got the current corporate bias ratings, and we need more companies in there, because that provides alternatives for people trying to find new products. We’re trying to get more eyeballs on the current database. We have a whole series of spotlight reports planned for additional databases—it’s about educating people and shining a light on behavior. We’d love to see one of the top 5 banks in the country saying that they’re rejecting this woke stuff and that they’re not taking up ideological fights. They’d make a bunch of money, and other bank execs would see that and perhaps consider doing that. We want to see those market forces used in a positive way.

Isaac Willour

Isaac Willour is a journalist currently reporting on American politics and higher education. His work has been published in a plethora of outlets, including the Christian Post, The Dispatch, the Wall Street Journal, and National Review, as well as interviews for New York Times Opinion and the American Enterprise Institute. He studies political science at Grove City College. He can be found on Twitter @IsaacWillour.