A fiery attack by former US Vice President Mike Pence. A first-of-its-kind law in Idaho that takes aim at ESG. A slew of similar bills expected to be introduced in red states next year.

These anti-ESG moves all have one thing in common: Andy Puzder.

A critic of minimum-wage laws, paid sick leave and other regulations, the fast-food magnate has emerged as a central figure in motivating an ambitious network of like-minded conservatives across red America in the war against ESG. These state officials and Republican activists — a coalition that includes Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the influential conservative operative Leonard Leo — are taking aim at major corporations like BlackRock Inc., the world’s largest money manager.

Their goal: to roll back the $40 trillion global business of environmental, social and governance investing, or at least score political points by trying.

What started as a scattershot, state-by-state effort is now a coordinated, nationwide campaign — one that promises to gather force now that Republicans maintained control of most state legislatures in the midterms and DeSantis emerges as a possible presidential candidate for 2024. House Republicans have said they plan to probe ESG in congressional hearings next year, and Puzder says he’s already been contacted by them to discuss that potentiality.

A controversial figure, the 72-year-old Puzder led the company that owns the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s chains for almost two decades until he stepped down in 2017 after his bid to become US labor secretary under President Donald Trump ran into bipartisan opposition. Now, as well as being a fixture at Republican gatherings and a frequent guest on Fox News, he’s drafted an anti-ESG law that is set to be introduced in various states next year. He’s also working on persuading friends to start a firm to thwart BlackRock’s firepower at the shareholder ballot box.

One Puzder fan is Pence. During a lunch in May at the Tennessee governor’s residence, the former vice president singled out Puzder when the conversation turned to ESG.

“You need to listen to Andy,’’ Pence told the 15 or so guests in Nashville, which included state lawmakers, lawyers and economists. Just weeks earlier, Pence had given a speech in Texas that vaulted the ESG attacks to the national stage. Puzder had spoken with Pence’s staff about ESG in the months before that speech. Pence’s spokesman declined to comment.

For the past 18 months or so, Puzder has been busy trying to turn ESG into a Republican talking point. He and his allies have portrayed the strategy as a threat to corporate America, and he’s been working behind the scenes — glad-handing officials, drafting bills and planting ideas.

“I thought politically this was a good issue,’’ Puzder said during an interview before the Nov. 8 elections.

On this Thursday in mid-October, he’s sitting in his lakeside summer home in Michigan, sipping a Monster energy drink and checking facts and figures on his iPad. Given the big issues of the day — inflation, high gasoline prices, war in Ukraine, diminished reproductive rights at home — it might seem easy to dismiss ESG as a sideshow. But to Puzder, ESG has worsened many of the challenges that America is facing.

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