Never underestimate the ability of SEC staff to parse the rules in a creative way. Staff Legal Bulletin No. 14H (CF) does not adhere completely to original intent, which staff determined was “to prevent shareholders from using Rule 14a-8 to circumvent the proxy rules governing solicitations.” However, it gets us where we need to be in defining the meaning of “directly conflicts” with regard to Rule 14a-8 exclusions. Continue Reading →
Tag Archives | SEC
Tom Croft of Heartland Capital Strategies had a good post the other day on the proposed CEO pay rules:
The US Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) voted to adopt a new CEO-Worker Pay Ratio Rule at its August 5 Meeting, passing the rule mandated by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (five years later).
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Broadridge Financial Solutions, Inc. BR, launched a newly upgraded ProxyVote site, which improves the shareholder communication and proxy voting experience for individual shareholders. Read the press release below, then my commentary.
“ProxyVote.com has long been a key technology in the corporate governance process,” said Broadridge Investor Communications Solutions President Robert Schifellite. “Since its launch more than 17 years ago, usage has grown tremendously and, in the past year alone, more than two-thirds of all proxy votes by individual shareholders were cast on ProxyVote.com. The newly upgraded platform reflects extensive input from individual investors, companies, broker-dealers, corporate governance experts, and regulators.”
Continue Reading →
Most companies opposing a shareholder proposal simply rely on an opposition statement, although sometimes they solicit the votes of their largest shareowners. Steris Corporation (NYSE:STE) took it a bit further. Was it cheating? That depends on your perspective. Like a partially inflated football, a partially stuffed ballot can provide the crucial margin needed to win.
Proxy Voting Deflate-Gate: What Steris Did
What a mouthfull. The 2015 National Conference in Chicago, 6/24-27, was my first time attending one of their events. Even though I’ve been blogging about corporate governance for almost 20 years, I didn’t know what they call themselves? SCSGP? Even that is a mouthful; without vowels how would I pronounce it? Maybe “Corporate Secretaries?” It turned out to be just the “Society.” Like Modonna, Yanni, Sher, Twiggy, Enya, Charo, Bono and Voltaire, only one name is needed. All those other societies will have to come up with other options to avoid confusion. Continue Reading →
Take Action: Comment on SEC’s Rule 14a-8(i)(9) Review
As proxy season draws to an end, managers, boards and their legal advisors are calling on the SEC to allow companies to exclude shareholder proposals if a company includes a proxy proposal on the same subject, even if it would do the opposite of the shareholder proposal. That recommendation threatens to hijack the very existence of the proxy proposal system, which simply allows shareholders to petition boards to take action and to put those petitions to a proxy vote to gauge support from shareholders. Your meaningful vote in corporate elections and the foundations of democratic corporate governance are at stake. Continue Reading →
The Status of Proxy Access 2015:
“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” – Winston Churchill
This post is in response to a LinkedIn piece by Anthony Goodman of Tapestry Networks regarding the status of proxy access post the success of New York Comptroller Scott Stringer’s Board Accountability Project (with adopt of proxy access by Bank of America, Abercrombie & Fitch, Big Lots and Whiting Petroleum to date). While the “2015 Battle for Proxy Access” appears won, the war over access is far from finished. What is over is the “ambiguity” over whether there is unanimity amongst institutional investors, governance advocates and proxy advisors for the 3-3-25 standard or whether the mega mutual funds would support conflicting higher ownership thresholds and holding periods. We now know that the answer to that question is generally universal support for 3-3-20/25 standard. Continue Reading →
Investing in America began with bankruptcy and early lessons in corporate governance. In the early 17th century, the hottest stock in England was the Virginia Company of London. Instead of adding to their fame and fortune, wealthy investors gained several hard insights from this first company to go bust on American soil.
Fame Is Not To Be Confused With Fortune
By 1609, the Virginia Company was two years into the Jamestown settlement and despite many setbacks from rugged conditions and Continue Reading →
I think most Americans have a very limited attention span when it comes to investing, the SEC and especially corporate governance. When I came across SECDisclose.org earlier this week, I was delighted with a series of videos they have uploaded on dark money and with their byline: Because the S.E.C. shouldn’t stand for “S-E-C-RET.”
In a few paragraphs below lifted from SECDisclose and a press release from the Corporate Reform Coalition, I hope to perk your interest in this project so that you’ll share their links with your friends. I love their campaign. It is very creative. However, one thing the campaign fails to do, at least as far as I could tell in a quick look, is to call their viewers and readers to action. I’ve practically hounded my readers to death on this issue but will do so once again. Continue Reading →
Replay the SEC Proxy Voting Roundtable. (Sorry no YouTube embedded video. You need to click a link.)
- Panel 1: Universal Proxy Ballots
- Panel 2: Retail Participation in the Proxy Process (starting about 1:44 into webcast)
Unfortunately, there is a gap about 2/3 of the way through for a fire drill. The second panel does come back but the video runs out while Nell Minow is speaking. As usual, she provides the best quote of the day: Continue Reading →
Missing from the preliminary proxy statements of Illinois Tool Works $ITW and Huntington Ingalls Industries $HII are special meeting proposals from William Steiner, even though the SEC months ago withdrew no-action letters previously issued to the companies. (Illinois Tool Works and Huntington Ingalls Industries) Shareowners of these companies might want to inquire as to why the proposals were left off preliminary proxy statements. (see ITW and HII statements) Continue Reading →
Disclosure of corporate lobbying expenses remain top shareholder proposal topics for 2015, as more than 60 investors have filed proposals with more than 50 companies asking for reports that include federal and state lobbying payments, political contributions and/or payments to trade associations used for lobbying and payments to any tax-exempt organization that writes and endorses model legislation.
In 2014, resolutions relating to corporate political and lobbying expenses of a company were among the most common shareholder proposal put forth during the proxy season for the fourth consecutive year, and it is expected that these will be among the most popular shareholder proposal topics for 2015 proxy season. The bulk of political spending resolutions fall under two categories, either requesting disclosure of lobbying expenditures or seeking disclosure of political contributions. Continue Reading →
Yesterday (2/10/2015), Corp Fin Director Keith Higgins delivered this interesting speech entitled “Rule 14a-8: Conflicting Proposals, Conflicting Views.” There are some really interesting things in this speech on counterproposals, etc., although there isn’t much that helps those companies grappling with proxy access shareholder proposals this proxy season (but there is some, such as #6 below). Here’s some notables from Keith’s speech: Continue Reading →
As I have been mentioning, I will be on a panel at the 2/19 SEC Roundtable discussing how to increase retail shareholder participation in the proxy process. It is the night before the event; so I’m trying to boil it all down, knowing I’ll probably only get a few minutes to say anything. The previous posts are all well and good about things that should be done. I tried to focus on what the SEC could do to help, since they are holding the event. Now that our panel is about to convene, I’m just going to mention what could prompt participation, whether or not it requires anything from the SEC.
From the SEC notice: This panel will focus on strategies for increasing retail shareholder participation in the proxy process. The panel will discuss how technology – by providing better access to information or easier means of voting – might affect retail participation. In addition, the panel will discuss whether the format of disclosure could be improved to increase the engagement of shareholders and how the mechanics of voting could be improved to affect retail shareholder participation. Continue Reading →
I will be on a panel at the 2/19 SEC Roundtable discussing how to increase retail shareholder participation in the proxy process. The SEC agenda is in bold italics. Our thoughts on VIFs and CITs are in normal type. Part 1 is here. Part 2 here.
This panel will focus on strategies for increasing retail shareholder participation in the proxy process. The panel will discuss how technology – by providing better access to information or easier means of voting – might affect retail participation. In addition, the panel will discuss whether the format of disclosure could be improved to increase the engagement of shareholders and how the mechanics of voting could be improved to affect retail shareholder participation. Continue Reading →
The last set of questions for panel at the 2/19 SEC Roundtable deal with client directed voting (CDV). Below are a few thoughts with the help of readers. I welcome further comments. The SEC agenda and questions are in bold italics. Our thoughts are in normal type. Part 1 is here.
This panel will focus on strategies for increasing retail shareholder participation in the proxy process. The panel will discuss how technology – by providing better access to information or easier means of voting – might affect retail participation. In addition, the panel will discuss whether the format of disclosure could be improved to increase the engagement of shareholders and how the mechanics of voting could be improved to affect retail shareholder participation.
The SEC raises several questions in their last group of questions for the panel on client directed voting, which I discuss below. Continue Reading →
As mentioned before, I will be on a panel at the 2/19 SEC Roundtable discussing how to increase retail shareholder participation in the proxy process. I’ve been collecting a few thoughts with the help of readers. Time is a major constraint, so I will need to prioritize my main points and will probably end up with a few bullet points by the time Thursday rolls around. In the meantime, I welcome further comments. The SEC agenda is in bold italics. Our thoughts are in normal type. Continue Reading →
The roundtable, announced in January, will begin at 9:30 a.m. and will be divided into two panels. Participants on the first panel will focus on the state of contested director elections and whether changes should be made to the federal proxy rules to facilitate the use of universal proxy ballots by management and proxy contestants. Participants also will discuss the state law, logistical, and disclosure issues presented by a possible universal proxy ballot process. Continue Reading →
I’m delighted to see “Discussion of Proxy Access” (11:05-12:05 p.m.) as one of the items on the agenda for the SEC’s Investor Advisory Committee (SEC-IAC) at the upcoming February 12th meeting. I discuss two recommendations below. Take Action: Please submit your own and paste into comments below. See comments submitted.
Proxy Access: Rule 14a-11
In light of CFA Institute’s Proxy Access in the United States: Revisiting the Proposed SEC Rule with the following findings, it is time to revisit the SEC’s overturned Rule 14a-11. Continue Reading →
(1/27/2015) The Securities and Exchange Commission announced that it will host a roundtable on February 19 to explore ways to improve the proxy voting process. The roundtable, which will be held at the SEC’s Washington, D.C. headquarters, will focus on universal proxy ballots and retail participation in the proxy process. I will be a member of the second panel. I invite readers to help me by sharing your ideas.
Proxy voting is important to both investors and companies. The ability to vote allows investors to make their views known to the company’s management and to participate effectively at annual or special meetings. Thus, the proxy voting process should be robust, effective and workable. Continue Reading →
The SEC has essentially suspended Rule 14a-8(i)(9) Conflicts with company’s proposal. Shareowners at Whole Foods Market and at many other companies have scored a huge victory.
Last Friday the SEC issued the following:
Statement from Chair White Directing Staff to Review Commission Rule for Excluding Conflicting Proxy Proposals
Chair Mary Jo White
Jan. 16, 2015 The Commission’s proxy rules enable shareholders to submit proposals for inclusion in a company’s proxy materials for a vote at a shareholder meeting, subject to certain procedural and substantive exclusions. One of the exclusions, Exchange Act Rule 14a-8(i)(9), allows a company to exclude a shareholder proposal that “directly conflicts” with a management proposal. Due to questions that have arisen about the proper scope and application of Rule 14a-8(i)(9), I have directed the staff to review the rule and report to the Commission on its review.
Apologies to those tired of reading about the issue of proxy access at Whole Foods. However, the SEC’s no action letter is a real watershed moment in the long struggle for proxy access, which began in earnest for me with a rulemaking petition in August 2002 but which others have been puruing for decades. Last Friday I received a letters from the Council of Institutional Investors (CII) and the Marco Consulting Group Trust in support of my December 23, 2014 appeal. (See below or CII site.
I am delighted to see the growing concern and support from investors for my appeal. As has been pointed out in the press, we are now witnessing the beginning of an avalanche of copycat filings. See Continue Reading →
… If the stockholder is to regard himself as a continuing part-owner of the business in which he has placed his money, he must be ready at times to act like a true owner and to make the decisions associated with ownership. If he wants his interests fully protected he must be willing to do something of his own to protect them. This requires a moderate amount of initiative and judgment. – Benjamin Graham and David Dodd, Securities Valuation, 1934
The most fundamental means for shareholders to act like true owners is to help decide who will represent their interests on the board of directors. It is not so much independent directors that shareowners want, but directors who are dependent on our vote – accountable to us, not to the corporate managers they oversee on our behalf. Obtaining the right to proxy access has been a long and perilous road.
On December 1, 2014, SEC staff effectively cut the road, giving a free pass to every group of entrenched board members and managers that seeks to prevent proxy access and direct accountability to shareowners. Continue Reading →
This piece originally appeared in the November 7, 2014 edition of GPW. I reformatted, added the title, graphics and ads. Let’s hope the SEC recognizes Whole Foods Market’s (WFM) sham proxy access proposal for what it is and denies their no-action request. New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer and New York City’s pension funds have initiated a groundbreaking campaign to give shareowners the right of proxy access at 75 U.S. companies. If the SEC grants WFM’s no action request, further progress on proxy access by New York and others could grind to a halt.
Carl Gershenson – “Protecting Markets from Society: Non-Pecuniary Claims in American Corporate Democracy” forthcoming in Politics & Society looks at the role of the state as ‘market protector.’ Protecting us from inside trading, pump and dump schemes, policing market players? Yes, that may be the primary duty of agencies such as the SEC. However, Gershenson turns our attention to a very important secondary duty – “protecting the market from disruptive challengers so that corporations may operate as if markets were autonomous.”
As we have seen in The Rise and Fall of Homo Economicus: The Myth of the Rational Human and the Chaotic Reality and the Economics of Good and Evil: The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street, people are not rational robots. Continue Reading →
The Investor as Owner Subcommittee of the SEC’s Investor Advisory Committee (SEC-IAC) established pursuant to Section 911 of the Dodd-Frank Act issued a report on Impartiality in the Disclosure of Preliminary Voting Results. The recommendations will be discussed at a meeting on October 9, 2014.
|When:||Thursday, October 9, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm|
|Who:||Investor Advisory Committee|
|What:||Investor Advisory Committee Quarterly Meeting|
|Where:||Multipurpose Room, SEC Headquarters, 100 F Street, NE, Washington, DC|
|Contact:||Frankie White, Office of the Investor Advocate, (202) 551 – 4310|
The members of the subcommittee are listed here. After I discuss the SEC-IAC’s two recommendations briefly below, which I support, I then urge readers to write to the SEC-IAC requesting they address additional issues of impartiality. Continue Reading →
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that Tracey L. McNeil has been selected as the first ombudsman for the agency. Ms. McNeil will begin her new post on September 22. She currently is a senior counsel in the SEC’s Office of Minority and Women Inclusion (OMWI), an office created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act. In this position, she has advised the director of OMWI in establishing the office and has worked to ensure the fair inclusion and utilization of minorities, women, and minority-owned and women-owned businesses in all business and activities of the agency. Continue Reading →
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that Brent J. Fields has been appointed as the agency’s Secretary, who is responsible for overseeing the administrative aspects of Commission meetings, rulemakings, and procedures. Let’s give Mr. Fields a warm welcome with a flood of e-mail supporting the petition to require companies to disclose political spending. Continue Reading →