By August 31, 2018, California could become the first state in the nation with gender quotas to mandate publicly held companies that base their operations in the state to have women on their boards. The legislation—SB 826—will require public companies headquartered in California to have a minimum of one female on its board of directors by December 31, 2019. That minimum will be raised to at least two female board members for companies with five directors or at least three female board members for companies with six or more directors by December 31, 2021. Continue Reading →
SEC Strategic Plan
SEC Strategic Plan focuses on helping “Main Street“make “informed investment decisions.” Little or no attention is paid in the draft Plan to helping us make informed governance decisions. Continue Reading →
Field Assistance Bulletin 2018-01
Field Assistance Bulletin 2018-01 issued by Trump administration. Recently, the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) within the Department of Labor (DoL) released Field Assistance Bulletin 2018-01 (link) relating to ESG (environment, social and governance) and shareholder rights for ERISA governed benefit plans. I set out some brief high-level analysis on the guidance below. Continue Reading →
Investor Response to Chamber: Letter
Representatives of hundreds of investors with trillions of dollars in assets delivered a letter to the SEC on November 9, 2017, An Investor response to U.S. Chamber’s Proposal to Revise SEC Rule 14a-8 (report).
We noted with interest the November 1, 2017, guidance contained in Staff Legal Bulletin No. 14I. While we are reserving judgment about how the guidance may apply in practice, we are particularly pleased by Director Hinman’s accompanying statement that the guidance is not intended to “make things easier or harder for one side or the other, . . . [but] to improve the process.” We strongly support that goal and plan to actively monitor the SEC staff no-action process during the upcoming proxy season to determine whether the goal was achieved.
SLB 14I (CF): Issued During 28th Annual SRI Conference
The latest SEC Staff Legal Bulletin, SLB 14I (CF), was issued on November 1, while 800 attended the 28th Annual SRI Conference in San Diego. I was flipping though the agenda when I got an email from a Bloomberg reporter asking for feedback on SLB 14I, which will further discourage shareholders from submitting proposals, especially those focused on environmental and social issues. It is yet another move against the ability of shareholders to fight for a salubrious environment, while seeking a healthy return.
28th Annual SRI Conference
First, a brief few words about the SRI Conference (#AllinForImpact), then I will dive into SLB 14I. I should have been attending these conferences for 28 years but they did not seem focused enough on governance issues. Over the years, governance and engagement have become more of an issue for them, while environmental and social issues have become more important to me… a happy convergence. Continue Reading →
CalPERS election rules, an obscure topic for most. Although the board of administration of CalPERS is very powerful, interest in CalPERS election rules is low. When proposed rules were discussed at a recent public meeting, I was the only one to provide any feedback. I expect that when there is a public hearing on the CalPERS election rules, I will be the only one testifying. Like corporate governance, pension fund governance gets too little attention.
I have seen much worse proposals before. For example, when they attempted to use CalPERS election rules to muzzle critics (CalPERS muzzles critics: Ballot rules protect board, keep others in the dark). The newly proposed election rules are not of that variety. Still, they hint at a certain degree of arrogance by seeking to put the Board above the law.
The current rulemaking attempts to create flexibility in CalPERS election rules by allowing the board to create rules of general application without going through the legally required rulemaking process. Sound like a technicality? Maybe, but democracy depends on the rules and an open process. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.
Proxy cards must be impartially labeled, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Rule 14a-4(a)(3) requires that proxies “identify clearly and impartially each separate matter intended to be acted upon.” (Guidance) Over and over again during the last twenty years I have written to the SEC asking them to enforce this rule on proxy cards, especially with regard to misleading or uninformative descriptions of shareholder proposals frequently provided on voter information forms (VIFs).
According to Broadridge “98% of all shares of U.S. public companies are held by institutions or retail brokerage accounts in “street name,” leaving just 2% registered through transfer agents.” (Registered Shareholders: How to Manage the Millennial Challenge) Everyone voting shares held in street names votes their ‘proxy’ using a VIF. Yesterday, the SEC finally issued clarification in the form of Questions and Answers of General Applicability: Section 301. Description under Rule 14a-4(a)(3) of Rule 14a-8 Shareholder Proposals. Should we be celebrating? Will the SEC guidance actually change behavior? Does it apply to VIFs or only to legal proxies? Who will enforce the rule? How? Continue Reading →
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 →
Take Action: Bartlett Naylor of Public Citizen sent me the following draft sign-on comment letter to FASB/SEC regarding their concept release to redefine “materiality” from information that “could” be important to investors to information that “would” be considered important. If you agree with us that regulators shouldn’t be reducing the volume information that “could” be material, please contact Mr. Naylor at [email protected]. Let him know you want to join in the comment letter. Include your contact details and how you want to be referenced.
December 6, 2015
Mary Jo White/Chair
James Schnurr/Office of Chief Accountant
Securities and Exchange Commission Members
Financial Accounting Standards Board Continue Reading →
On June 30th, the Securities and Exchange Commission released some long-awaited guidance on the procedures that advisers should follow in retaining proxy advisory firms and clarifies the responsibilities for both investment advisers and proxy advisory firms. Here is our initial response for a more detailed response please read our white paper. Continue Reading →
TK Kerstetter wrong on board disclosure proposal at the SEC. TK Kerstetter is the president and CEO of Board Member Inc. a privately held publishing, database, research, and conference company focused on corporate board issues and governance trends. Corporate Board Member is sent to all corporate directors of public companies on the NASDAQ, NYSE Euronext, and NYSE Amex stock exchanges. Usually, the publication contains excellent advice. A rare exception is Kerstetter’s Director Qualification Disclosure Will Prove Lame. (The Board Blog, 12/9/09) Continue Reading →
“Self-serving” is what one critic called the vote last week to sharply limit what candidates for the California Public Employees Retirement System board can include in their ballot statements. Certainly, “self-serving” is one word that characterizes that vote. “Anti-democratic,” “chilling” and “wrong” are among the others.
In a decision sweeping in its arrogance and disregard for First Amendment speech rights, the CalPERS board voted 9-4 to restrict ballot statements to “a recitation of the candidate’s personal background and qualifications” — and nothing more. Incredibly, board members even voted to delete a proposal by their staff that would have allowed ballot statements to include “candidates’ opinion or positions on issues of general concern to the system’s membership.” Continue Reading →