That probably depends on your political perspective–and your personal beliefs.
But we looked behind the curtain at the politics of the companies contained in the JUST ETF. And what we found, well, at this point it was not that surprising. We found another example of a fund marketing itself one way, but including companies that are doing things that do not align with the fund’s marketing story (see here and here for past examples).
What is the JUST ETF?
The JUST ETF launched to a lot of fanfare back in 2018. It seeks to provide broad exposure to U.S. large-cap stocks, with a focus on companies that demonstrate “just business behavior.” Today, the JUST ETF has nearly $300M in assets under management.
What does “just business behavior” mean?
Forbes put together a nice summary of how the JUST ETF picks its “just businesses” in an article it published around the time the JUST ETF launched:
The new fund aims to track an index created by JUST Capital, a nonprofit that does research to find large U.S. companies engaging in “just business behavior.” . . .
Cofounded in 2013 by billionaire investor Paul Tudor Jones II and thought leaders like Deepak Chopra and Arianna Huffington, JUST Capital has surveyed 72,000 Americans to understand the business practices related to environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues that matter most to them. Using those priorities, it scores Russell 1000 companies on 85 ESG metrics like fair pay, job creation, customer privacy and environmental impact.
In one of its initial press releases, JUST claimed it “invests in U.S. companies that are driving positive change on some of the most pressing social issues of our time – including worker pay and wellbeing, customer treatment and privacy, beneficial products, the environment, job creation, strong communities, and more .” On its website, JUST claims to utilize “over 145,000 data points across 88 unique metrics” to score company performance.
Apparently the 145,000 data points that JUST utilizes do not include political giving.
Because there are a lot of companies in the JUST ETF that have funneled millions of dollars to politicians and PACs during the last three federal election cycles.
We don’t consider such activity “just business behavior” (but maybe you do).
For example, by our count, the JUST ETF has a higher percentage of companies that funnel money to politicians through corporate PACs than the entire S&P 500 as a whole, and by a fairly wide margin. In fact, only three of the fund’s top twenty holdings, Apple, Nvidia, and Costco, do not give to politicians through PACs.
Given JUST’s ESG status – and the politics of its backers, including Arriana Huffington — co-founder of the Huffington Post — one would expect a large majority of the companies in the fund to lean left.
But that’s also not the case.
Here are some examples of the political activities of just a few of the fund’s top holdings:
- Pfizer is one of the largest corporate contributors to politicians and PACs in this country;
- Exxon Mobil according to the New York Times “[m]isled the public about the dangers of climate change” for years, and spent huge amounts on Facebook ads to try to get Donald Trump re-elected in 2020;
- Home Depot made the top 5 of our list of the top 25 companies responsible for turning the Supreme Court conservative; and
- AT&T according to Reuters “helped build far-right One America News.”
We’re non-partisan at Goods Unite Us. But we view it as our responsibility to provide transparency. If you think these companies are performing “just business behavior,” then please invest in JUST. Our guess, however, is that most of the current investors in the JUST ETF might view the JUST ETF a little differently now that they know what they’re actually buying.
You can download a full list of the JUST ETF’s holdings here.