Tag Archives | SEC

Business Roundtable to SEC: Muzzle Shareholders

proxymonitorsmeasurecsmypropsAs I indicated yesterday, I have been contacted by several reporters for comments on the latest screed from the Business Roundtable seeking to muzzle the rights of shareholders. Although I have much more productive ways to occupy my time, it does make sense for me to provide at least some response, since the Business Roundtable names me among those “pursuing special interests… frequently at a significant cost to the company.”

Their statistics do not come from an objective third party, such as Proxy Insight, but from the conservative Manhattan Institute‘s Proxy Monitor (funded in part by the Koch Family Foundations), covering only 250 out of thousands of American companies. The Business Roundtable titled their report Responsible Shareholder Engagement And Long-Term Value Creation: Modernizing the Shareholder Proposal Process. Don’t be fooled by the numbers they use, claiming few proposals pass. The Business Roundtable doesn’t count proposals that don’t make it to the proxy because proponents and companies have reached agreement. They don’t count proposals filed at the thousands of small companies, which tend to have poorer corporate governance practices. ‘Modernization’ for the Business Roundtable means moving the SEC further and further from its primary mandate of ‘investor protection’ by creating a democracy-free zone for entrenched managers.  Continue Reading →

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No-Action Requests & the Business Roundtable

Most Popular Topics of No-Action Requests for 2016

Most Popular Topics of No-Action Requests

Yesterday, several reporters asked me to comment on no-action requests and the SEC’s denial to Apple, as well as the Business Roundtable’s fanciful notions regarding the need for reform of the proxy proposal process. I am reluctant to give the Business Roundtable’s proposal, Modernizing the Shareholder Proposal Processany more ink but will just touch on one of their issues here as I explain the Apple decision. 

No-Action Requests: Apple and Proxy Access Lite

The SEC has consistently denied no-action requests to companies where the proponent asks for modifications to bylaws when the companies have made no modifications in the direction requested. See H&R Block and Microsoft as prior examples. Apple is no exception. This is nothing new. Continue Reading →

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#ICGN16: Part 1

#ICGN16

#ICGN16 was the hashtag for tweeting about the 2016 annual meeting of the International Corporate Governance Network held in San Francisco, June 27 – 29th, 2016. Check Twitter for additional posts to #ICGN16. What follows are a few of my rough notes from the conference. Accuracy for details isn’t one of my noted strengths, so I’m tempted to say the notes are for entertainment purposes only but I do hope readers will get some sense of the proceedings.

#ICGN16: PreConference Rethink of ‘One Share, One Vote’

Even before the ICGN16 (International Corporate Governance Network annual conference) met in San Francisco last month, two prominent former board members kicked off lively debate by proposing a radical rethink of what has been a guiding principle for many in the movement for good corporate governance. Peter Clapman and Richard Koppes argued in a WSJ opinion piece that longterm shareholders should have greater voting rights.

…the shareholder-rights agenda has been largely achieved. Only 10% of S&P 500 boards are classified today, while some 90% are elected by majority vote. Only 3% have a poison pill in force. More than 35% of S&P 500 companies have adopted proxy access… 

Richard Koppes

Richard Koppes

Peter Clapman

Peter Clapman

Activists increasingly demand board representation to implement their agenda, often meaning that short-term investors take and quickly relinquish boards’ seats. Boards frequently settle with activists out of fear of losing a proxy battle—or worse, winning a Pyrrhic victory. (Time to Rethink ‘One Share, One Vote’?)

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‘Substantial Implementation’ Will Backfire

Substantial Implementation Will Backfire

‘Substantial Implementation’ Defense for Proxy Access Lite Under (i)(10) Will Backfire for Corporate Boards

Substantial implementation, that’s the deception companies have been arguing in order to obtain ‘no-action’ relief under SEC Rule 14a-8(i)(10) after implementing proxy access ‘lite.’ Law firms have been touting recent no-action letters released on February 12, with more in March  2016. It looks like a clear win for entrenched managers and directors for implementing only proxy access lite. In reality, such deception will cost companies more in legal fees and will reduce board discretion, since shareholders will increasingly file binding bylaw resolutions to obtain the same robust proxy access promised under vacated Rule 14a-8(i)(10). Continue Reading →

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Lobbying Disclosure Sought by Investors

lobbying disclosureLobbying disclosure is sought by shareholder resolutions filed at 50 companies by 66 institutional and individual investors.

Corporate lobbying disclosure remains a top shareholder proposal topic for 2016. At least 66 investors have filed proposals at 50 companies asking for lobbying reports that include federal and state lobbying payments, payments to trade associations used for lobbying, and payments to any tax-exempt organization that writes and endorses model legislation. Political activity remains a top investor topic for the sixth consecutive year, with more than 90 proposals filed for 2016 that seek disclosure of either lobbying or political contributions. Continue Reading →

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RIA Hands Untied by SEC No-Action Denial

RIA Hands Untied

RIA Hands Untied

RIA hands untied by Newground Social Investments team and the SEC’s refusal to grant a no-action letter to Baker Hughes (BHI, $BHI) on February 22, 2016. Congratulations to Bruce Herbert and staff at Newground, as well as to their advisors.

We have discussed the importance of not counting abstentions before at Simple Majority Vote Counting Initiative for Proxies. Bruce has worked tirelessly in chipping away at vote counting deception for years… making some progress. However, what we are celebrating here are two precedents established that will ease the burden faced by Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs, Investment Advisor or Investment Adviser?) and their clients: Continue Reading →

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SEC Protects the 2%: Qualcomm Example

SEC Protects the 2%

SEC protects the 2%, an absurd meaningless gesture

The SEC protects the 2%. No, I am not writing about the top 2% of America in terms of wealth or income, although there is probably some correlation. I am writing about the 2% of shares that are still registered. While the SEC is protecting shareholders who own that 2% of shares, they are falling down on the job with respect to protecting the rights of shareholders owning the other 98%. Yesterday, I asked the SEC to invalidate the proxy ballot sent out by Qualcomm (QCOM). I’ve raised this issue before, filing a rulemaking petition on the subject in 2009 but can’t let the SEC’s inaction slide. A few examples of previous posts are as follows:

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Apple Shareholders Rejected Real Proxy Access

Apple Shareholders Rejected Real Proxy AccessApple shareholders rejected real proxy access at their meeting on February 25, 2016. Maybe shareholders thought they already have it. Recent decisions by the SEC could lead shareholders to believe proxy access was “substantially implemented.”

Maybe they wanted to support Apple’s management while the company is under attack from the FBI.  

ISS recommended a “For” vote. Shouldn’t that have guaranteed passage?

We probably won’t know for months which Apple shareholders rejected real proxy access… and maybe that’s the key point.

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The Walt Disney Company (DIS): Proxy Score 62

 Disney

before you vote your proxy

Disney ($DIS), together with its subsidiaries, operates as an entertainment company worldwide. Disney is one of the stocks in my portfolio. Their annual meeting is on March 3, 2016. ProxyDemocracy.org had collected the votes of three funds when I checked. I voted against the pay proposal and compensation committee and in favor of shareholder proposal to eliminate supermajority requirements and to report on lobbying. I voted with the Board’s recommendations 62% of the time. View Proxy Statement.

Read Warnings below. What follows are my recommendations on how to vote the proxy in order to enhance corporate governance and long-term value.  Continue Reading →

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Apple Inc. Proxy Score 47 – ‘For’ Proxy Access

Apple IncApple Inc. (AAPL) meeting on 2/26/2016 provides shareholders an opportunity to vote FOR real proxy access. Apple Inc. designs, manufactures, and markets mobile communication and media devices, personal computers, and portable digital music players to consumers, small and mid-sized businesses, education, and enterprise and government customers worldwide. It is one of the stocks in my portfolio. I will attend the 2/26 meeting in person.

ProxyDemocracy.org had collected the votes of four funds when I checked. I voted against two directors and for proxy access, therefore with the Board’s recommendations 47% of the time. View Proxy Statement.

Read Warnings below. What follows are my recommendations on how to vote the proxy in order to enhance corporate governance and long-term value.  Continue Reading →

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Substantial Implementation: Proxy Access Lite

Substantial ImplementationSubstantial implementation, that’s what SEC staff deemed proxy access ‘lite’ last week. Investor rights were eroded again as staff granted a number of no-action letters on February 12th to companies based on “substantial implementation” of proxy access. At its founding, the SEC was largely a champion of shareholder rights. The SEC required companies to include proposals on any proper subject in the proxy in order to approximate the conditions of the annual meeting. The SEC even took Transamerica to court in 1947 for refusing to place shareholder proposals in their proxy. From that high point, the SEC began chipping away at shareholder proxy rights. Last week’s decisions inferring proxy access lite to be substantial implementation provided further evidence of an agency more concerned with protecting entrenched managers than shareholder rights. Continue Reading →

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Franklin Resources: Proxy Score 58

Franklin ResourcesFranklin Resources, Inc. (BEN) is a publicly owned asset management holding company, which includes Franklin Templeton Investments, and is one of the stocks in my portfolio. Their annual meeting is on February 17, 2016. ProxyDemocracy.org had collected the votes of two funds when I checked. I voted against three directors and for the proposal for a report on voting incongruities regarding climate change voting. I voted with the Board’s recommendations 58% of the time. View Proxy Statement.

Franklin Resources: Special Note

This is one of the most important votes of the year because of the vitally important proxy proposal submitted by Zevin Asset Management, along with First Affirmative Financial and Friends Fiduciary Corporate. The proposal asks our company to report on incongruences between the proxy voting practices of Franklin Resources and its stated policy positions on climate change. If they are essentially ‘green-washing,’ this proposal should lead to a change in how they vote. If their proxy votes are already aligned with their policies and public statements, a report will provide an opportunity for good publicity. Continue Reading →

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CSP Inc.: Proxy Score 87

CSPCSP Inc. (CSPI), together with its subsidiaries, develops and markets IT integration solutions and cluster computer systems to commercial and defense customers in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. CSP Inc. is one of the stocks in my portfolio. Their annual meeting is on February 9, 2016. ProxyDemocracy.org didn’t have a listing for CSP I presume it is because the company is too small.  I voted for the directors, pay, auditor and for proxy access, therefore with the Board’s recommendations 87% of the time. View Proxy Statement. Continue Reading →

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TD Ameritrade Holding: Proxy Score 62

TD AmeritradeTD Ameritrade Holding Corporation (AMTD) provides securities brokerage services and related technology-based financial services to retail investors, traders, and independent registered investment advisors (RIAs) in the United States. TD Ameritrade is one of the stocks in my portfolio. Their annual meeting is on February 18, 2016. ProxyDemocracy.org had collected no votes when I checked. I voted against the pay and bonus plans, therefore with the Board’s recommendations 62% of the time. View Proxy Statement.

Read Warnings below. What follows are my recommendations on how to vote the proxy in order to enhance corporate governance and long-term value.  Continue Reading →

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Visa (V): How I Voted – Proxy Score 53

VisaVisa Inc (V), a payments technology company, operates an open-loop payments network worldwide. The company facilitates commerce through the transfer of value and information among financial institutions, merchants, consumers, businesses, and government entities. Visa is one of the stocks in my portfolio. Their annual meeting is on February 3, 2016. ProxyDemocracy.org had collected no votes when I checked.  I voted against the pay plan, incentive plan, amendments and the compensation committee but with the Board’s recommendations 53% of the time. View Proxy Statement on iiWisdom. Continue Reading →

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