Archive for the ‘Corporate Elections & Voting’ Category

2015 Benchmark US Proxy Voting Policies FAQ

Posted by Carol Bowie, Institutional Shareholder Services Inc., on Thursday February 26, 2015 at 9:24 am
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Editor’s Note: Carol Bowie is Head of Americas Research at Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS). The following post relates to ISS’ 2015 Benchmark Proxy Voting Policies.

ISS is providing answers to frequently asked questions with regard to select policies and topics of interest for 2015:

Proxy Access Proposals

1. How will ISS recommend on proxy access proposals?

Drawing on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) decades-long effort to draft a market-wide rule allowing investors to place director nominees on corporate ballots, and reflecting feedback from a broad range of institutional investors and their portfolio companies, ISS is updating its policy on proxy access to generally align with the SEC’s formulation.

Old Recommendation: ISS supports proxy access as an important shareholder right, one that is complementary to other best-practice corporate governance features. However, in the absence of a uniform standard, proposals to enact proxy access may vary widely; as such, ISS is not setting forth specific parameters at this time and will take a case-by-case approach when evaluating these proposals.

Vote case-by-case on proposals to enact proxy access, taking into account, among other factors:

…continue reading: 2015 Benchmark US Proxy Voting Policies FAQ

Ensuring the Proxy Process Works for Shareholders

Posted by Luis A. Aguilar, Commissioner, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, on Friday February 20, 2015 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s recent public statement; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Aguilar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

Today’s [February 19, 2015] Roundtable on Proxy Voting is certainly timely since over the course of the next several months, thousands of America’s public companies will hold annual shareholders meetings to elect directors and to vote on many important corporate governance issues. The start of the annual “proxy season” is an appropriate time to consider the annual process by which companies communicate with their shareholders and get their input on a variety of issues. Whether it’s voting on directors, executive compensation matters, or other significant matters, the annual meeting is the principal opportunity for shareholders—the true owners of public companies—to have their voices heard by the corporate managers of their investments. At these annual meetings, shareholders can express their support, or disappointment, with the direction of their companies through the exercise of their right to vote.

…continue reading: Ensuring the Proxy Process Works for Shareholders

SEC to Review Excluding Conflicting Proxy Proposals under Rule 14a-8

Posted by Kobi Kastiel, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Tuesday February 10, 2015 at 9:02 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Robert B. Schumer, chair of the Corporate Department at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, and is based on a Paul Weiss client memorandum.

SEC Chair Mary Jo White has directed the Division of Corporation Finance (“Corporation Finance”) to review its position on Rule 14a-8(i)(9), which allows a company to exclude a shareholder proposal from the company’s proxy materials if it “conflicts” with the company’s own proposal to be submitted to shareholders at the same meeting. As a result of this direction, Corporation Finance will express “no views” on the application of Rule 14a-8(i)(9) this proxy season.

The catalyst for this development was a shareholder proposal submitted by proponent James McRitchie to Whole Foods Market, Inc., requesting that the company adopt “proxy access” procedures generally to allow one or more shareholders owning at least 3% of the company’s voting securities for three or more years to nominate up to 20% of the board of directors via the company’s proxy materials. Whole Foods countered with its own proposal that included significantly different share ownership and holding period thresholds and director nominee caps, but nevertheless was granted no-action relief by Corporation Finance, allowing it to exclude the McRitchie proposal under Rule 14a-8(i)(9) on the basis that it conflicted with Whole Foods’ proposal and the proposals would “present alternative and conflicting decisions for the Company’s shareholders that would likely result in inconsistent and ambiguous results”. Thereafter, Mr. McRitchie, the Council of Institutional Investors and others have called for the SEC to review its position on these “conflicts”, which SEC Chair White has now done. Corporation Finance has since effectively rescinded its no-action relief to Whole Foods and stated that it has no view of Rule 14a-8(i)(9).

…continue reading: SEC to Review Excluding Conflicting Proxy Proposals under Rule 14a-8

Advance Notice Bylaws: Trends and Challenges

Editor’s Note: Eduardo Gallardo is a partner focusing on mergers and acquisitions at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn client alert by Mr. Gallardo, James Hallowell, Elizabeth Ising, Gillian McPhee, and Stephenie Gosnell Handler.

Shareholder activism continues to dominate the corporate landscape and attract daily headlines in the financial press. And, as the pace of activism accelerates in 2015, a number of legal battles over the last two years between companies and activists has put in the spotlight the permissible scope and function of advance notice bylaws—a term that we broadly define for these purposes to cover bylaw provisions establishing timing, procedural and informational requirements for shareholders seeking to present director nominations and other business proposals to a shareholder vote. [1]

A typical advance notice bylaw requires that shareholders submit to the corporate secretary notice of all director nominations and business to be put to a vote at an annual meeting within a thirty-day window that opens and closes on specified deadlines preceding the anniversary date of the prior year’s annual meeting date (or, less common, related proxy statement). Such a notice often must be accompanied by information about the nominee or business, and the proposing shareholder. This information is generally intended to enhance the board’s ability to advise shareholders regarding the nominee or proposal, as well as potential sources of conflict between the proponent and other shareholders.

…continue reading: Advance Notice Bylaws: Trends and Challenges

ISS 2015 Equity Plan Scorecard FAQs

Posted by Carol Bowie, Institutional Shareholder Services Inc., on Monday February 2, 2015 at 9:10 am
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Editor’s Note: Carol Bowie is Head of Americas Research at Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS). This post relates to ISS’ Equity Plan Scorecard for 2015.

General Questions

1. What is the basis for ISS’ new scorecard approach for evaluating equity compensation proposals?

The new policy will allow more nuanced consideration of equity incentive programs, which are critical for motivating and aligning the interests of key employees with shareholders, but which also fuel the lion’s share of executive pay and may be costly without providing superior benefits to shareholders. While most plan proposals pass, they tend to get broader and deeper opposition than, for example, say-on-pay proposals (e.g., only 60% of Russell 3000 equity plan proposals garnered support of 90% or more of votes cast in 2014 proxy season, versus almost 80% of say-on-pay proposals that received that support level). The voting patterns indicate that most investors aren’t fully satisfied with many plans.

…continue reading: ISS 2015 Equity Plan Scorecard FAQs

The State of Corporate Governance for 2015

Editor’s Note: Holly J. Gregory is a partner and co-global coordinator of the Corporate Governance and Executive Compensation group at Sidley Austin LLP. The following post is based on a Sidley update.

The balance of power between shareholders and boards of directors is central to the U.S. public corporation’s success as an engine of economic growth, job creation and innovation. Yet that balance is under significant and increasing strain. In 2015, we expect to see continued growth in shareholder activism and engagement, as well as in the influence of shareholder initiatives, including advisory proposals and votes. Time will tell whether, over the long term, tipping the balance to greater shareholder influence will prove beneficial for corporations, their shareholders and our economy at large. In the near term, there is reason to question whether increased shareholder influence on matters that the law has traditionally apportioned to the board is at the expense of other values that are key to the sustainability of healthy corporations. These concerns underlie the issues that will define the state of governance in 2015 and likely beyond:

…continue reading: The State of Corporate Governance for 2015

Responding to Corporate Political Disclosure Initiatives

Posted by Yaron Nili, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Friday January 30, 2015 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Robert K. Kelner, partner in the Election and Political Law Practice Group at Covington & Burling LLP, and is based on a Covington Alert by Mr. Kelner, Keir D. Gumbs, and Zachary Parks. Recent work from the Program on Corporate Governance about political spending includes: Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending by Lucian Bebchuk and Robert J. Jackson, Jr. (discussed on the Forum here). Posts related to the SEC rulemaking petition on disclosure of political spending are available here.

Despite recent setbacks, efforts by activist groups to pressure companies to disclose details of their political activities are not going away. As these groups become increasingly sophisticated, 2015 looks to be their most active year to date. In fact, for the first time ever, the Center for Political Accountability plans to issue a report this year ranking the political spending disclosure practices of all 500 companies in the S&P 500 Index. This post highlights recent developments regarding corporate political spending disclosure efforts, looks ahead to what public companies can expect in the near future, and provides strategies and tips for those grappling with disclosure issues.

…continue reading: Responding to Corporate Political Disclosure Initiatives

Understanding Director Elections

Posted by R. Christopher Small, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Thursday January 29, 2015 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Yonca Ertimur of the Accounting Division at the University of Colorado at Boulder; Fabrizio Ferri of the Accounting Division at Columbia University; and David Oesch of the Department of Financial Accounting at the University of Zurich.

In the paper Understanding Director Elections: Determinants and Consequences, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we provide an in-depth examination of uncontested director elections. Using a hand-collected and comprehensive sample for director elections held at S&P 500 firms over the 2003–2010 period, we examine the factors driving shareholder votes in uncontested director elections, the effect of these votes on firms’ actions and the impact of these actions on firm value. We make three contributions.

First, it is well known that recommendations by the proxy advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) play a key role in determining the voting outcome. Yet, the question of what factors drive ISS recommendations and, thus, shareholder votes in uncontested director elections remains largely unanswered. To fill this gap, we use the reports ISS releases to its clients ahead of the annual meeting and identify the specific reasons underlying negative ISS recommendations. We find that 38.1% of the negative recommendations target individual directors (reflecting concerns with independence, meeting attendance and number of directorships), 28.6% target an entire committee (usually the compensation committee), and the remaining 33.3% target the entire board (mostly for lack of responsiveness to shareholder proposals receiving a majority vote in the past). A withhold recommendation by ISS is associated with about 20% more votes withheld, in line with prior research. More relevant to our study, there is substantial variation in votes withheld from directors conditional on the underlying reason. A board-level ISS withhold recommendation is associated with 25.48% more votes withheld, versus 19.73% and 16.44%, respectively, for committee- and individual-level withhold recommendations. The sensitivity of shareholder votes to ISS withhold recommendations is higher when there are multiple reasons underlying the withhold recommendation for the director (a proxy for more severe concerns) and at firms with poorer governance structures. These results suggest that shareholders do not blindly follow ISS recommendations but seem to take into account their rationale, their severity and other contextual factors (e.g. governance of the firm). However, cases of high votes withheld without a negative proxy advisor recommendation are rare, suggesting that voting shareholders only focus on the issues singled out by proxy advisors, potentially at the expense of other value-relevant factors (e.g. directors’ skill set, expertise and experience) for which proxy advisors have not (yet) developed voting guidelines (perhaps due to lack of sophistication or the inherent complexity of the issue).

…continue reading: Understanding Director Elections

ISS 2015 Independent Chair Policy FAQs

Posted by Carol Bowie, Institutional Shareholder Services Inc., on Monday January 26, 2015 at 9:16 am
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Editor’s Note: Carol Bowie is Head of Americas Research at Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS). This post relates to ISS independent chair voting policy guidelines for 2015.

1. How does the new approach differ from the previous approach?

Under the previous approach, ISS generally recommended for independent chair shareholder proposals unless the company satisfied all the criteria listed in the policy. Under the new approach, any single factor that may have previously resulted in a “For” or “Against” recommendation may be mitigated by other positive or negative aspects, respectively. Thus, a holistic review of all of the factors related to company’s board leadership structure, governance practices, and performance will be conducted under the new approach.

For example, under ISS’ previous approach, if the lead director of the company did not meet each one of the duties listed under the policy, ISS would have recommended For, regardless of the company’s board independence, performance, or otherwise good governance practices.

Under the new approach, in the example listed above, the company’s performance and other governance factors could mitigate concerns about the less-than-robust lead director role. Conversely, a robust lead director role may not mitigate concerns raised by other factors.

…continue reading: ISS 2015 Independent Chair Policy FAQs

What Sitting Commissioners Should and Shouldn’t Do

Posted by Tamar Frankel, Boston University School of Law, on Tuesday January 20, 2015 at 8:38 am
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Editor’s Note: Tamar Frankel is a Professor of Law at Boston University School of Law. This post relates to a paper by Commissioner Daniel Gallagher and Professor Joseph Grundfest, described on the Forum here. An earlier post about this paper by Professor Tamar Frankel, titled Did Commissioner Gallagher Violate SEC Rules?, is available on the Forum here. The Forum also featured last week (here) a joint statement by thirty-four senior corporate and securities law professors from seventeen leading law schools—including at Boston University, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Michigan, New York University, Northwestern, Stanford, Texas, UCLA, Vanderbilt, Virginia and Yale—opining that the paper’s allegations against Harvard and the SRP are meritless and urging the paper’s co-authors to withdraw these allegations. In addition, the Forum published earlier posts about the paper by Professor Grundfest (most recently here) and by Professor Jonathan Macey (most recently here), and replies by Professor Richard Painter and Harvey Pitt (available here and here) to Professor Frankel’s first post.

In an earlier post (available here), I expressed concerns about Commissioner Gallagher’s decision to issue (jointly with Professor Joseph Grundfest) a paper accusing Harvard University and the Shareholder Rights Project (SRP) of violating securities laws when they assisted investors submitting declassification proposals. Subsequently, a group of thirty-four senior corporate and securities law professors (including myself) issued a joint statement (available on the Forum here). In addition to opining that the allegations in the paper were meritless, the joint statement expressed concerns that a sitting SEC Commissioner has chosen to issue such allegations. However, others have taken the view that sitting Commissioners should be as free as other individuals to express opinions that specific individuals or organizations violated the law. I beg to differ, for the following reasons.

Sitting Commissioners may, and should be encouraged, to publicly discuss policy problems and issues. However, they should avoid publishing accusations against specific individuals or organizations, except as part of the SEC process. Publishing such accusations should not be an acceptable behavior by a sitting SEC Commissioners. That is even though during their tenure, SEC Commissioners are likely to disagree with others about potential legal accusations against specific parties.

So what is wrong with a publication of a Commissioner’s views about possible actions against Harvard University? Most persons could do the same with impunity. The answer is that the Commissioner is bestowed with power to participate in a decision to bring a suit by the SEC. None of us has this power. Yet, the Commissioner’s power is not granted for his own use. The power to participate in these decisions is bestowed on the Commissioner as a fiduciary for the purpose of serving this country and only pursuant to the processes of the Agency.

I hope that this Commissioner and future Commissioners will distinguish between expressing a policy opinion and issuing accusations of legal violations against specific parties. I hope that the discussions and disagreement on this issue will guide future Commissioners’ speeches: Please speak your mind. But do not give any whiff of accusations against specific parties except by following carefully and fully the Commission’s process. Thus, regardless of scholarly and legal arguments, and regardless of the motivation of the Commissioner’s actions, his inappropriate statements are at issue, and I am very sorry he made them.

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