Archive for the ‘Corporate Elections & Voting’ Category

Shareholder Proposals on Social and Environmental Issues

Editor’s Note: Matteo Tonello is managing director of corporate leadership at The Conference Board. This post relates to an issue of The Conference Board’s Director Notes series authored by Melissa Aguilar and Thomas Singer. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

Political spending and climate change, key topics during the 2014 proxy season, are expected to feature heavily again in 2015 shareholder proposals. This post reviews the content of the social and environmental proposals voted on most frequently by shareholders of Russell 3000 companies during the 2014 season, including the topics that received the highest average shareholder support. The complete publication provides examples of proposal text and sponsor supporting statements, as well as board responses and related corporate disclosure.

Nearly 40 percent of all shareholder proposals submitted at Russell 3000 companies that held meetings during the first half of 2014 were related to social and environmental policy issues, up from 29.2 percent in 2010, as documented in Proxy Voting Analytics (2010-2014). Social and environmental policy proposals now represent the second-largest category of the subjects in terms of both the number submitted and the number voted, narrowly behind corporate governance.

…continue reading: Shareholder Proposals on Social and Environmental Issues

SEC Commissioner, Law Professor Wrongfully Accuse SRP of Securities Fraud

Posted by Jonathan R. Macey, Yale Law School, on Monday December 15, 2014 at 4:17 pm
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Editor’s Note: Jonathan R. Macey is the Sam Harris Professor of Corporate Law, Corporate Finance & Securities Law at Yale University. This post analyzes the arguments in a paper by SEC Commissioner Daniel M. Gallagher and Stanford law School Professor Joseph A. Grundfest, described in a post by Professor Joseph Grundfest (available on the Forum here) and a post by Wachtell Lipton (available on the Forum here).

Here is something that one does not see every day. In their recent paper “Did Harvard Violate Federal Securities Law? The Campaign Against Classified Boards of Directors” posted on December 10, 2014, a sitting Commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission and a former SEC Commissioner accuse the Shareholder Rights Project at Harvard Law School (SRP) of violating the anti-fraud provisions of the securities laws. The alleged fraud occurred when institutional investors represented by the SRP proposed shareholder resolutions encouraging shareholders in U.S. public companies to vote to de-stagger their companies’ boards.

In this submission I present my analysis of this paper, concluding that the SRP proposals were not fraudulent or misleading and that the aggressive application of the anti-fraud provisions of the securities laws advanced by the authors of the “Did Harvard Violate Federal Securities Law?” would be inconsistent with the law and, by the authors’ own admission, inconsistent with the current policy and practice of the staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

…continue reading: SEC Commissioner, Law Professor Wrongfully Accuse SRP of Securities Fraud

Current and Former SEC Commissioners Question Legality of Harvard Declassification Proposals

Posted by Martin Lipton, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, on Monday December 15, 2014 at 9:20 am
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Editor’s Note: Martin Lipton is a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in mergers and acquisitions and matters affecting corporate policy and strategy. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Lipton, Theodore N. Mirvis, and George T. Conway III.

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports that a current SEC Commissioner and a former SEC Commissioner (now a law professor) have published a lengthy paper challenging the scholarly bona fides—and legality—of the recent efforts by the Harvard Law School Shareholder Rights Project (SRP) to cause major American corporations to declassify their boards of directors. During the past three proxy seasons, the Harvard SRP has promulgated numerous stockholder-sponsored precatory resolutions calling for declassification of companies with staggered boards, and has succeeded in causing 98 companies to remove their staggered structure and have all their directors stand for election annually.

…continue reading: Current and Former SEC Commissioners Question Legality of Harvard Declassification Proposals

Did Harvard Violate Federal Securities Law?

Posted by Joseph Grundfest, Stanford Law School, on Monday December 15, 2014 at 9:19 am
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Editor’s Note: Joseph A. Grundfest is the W. A. Franke Professor of Law and Business at Stanford University Law School.

SEC Commissioner Daniel Gallagher and I just posted on SSRN a new paper, titled Did Harvard Violate Federal Securities Law? The Campaign Against Classified Boards of Directors. The abstract of the paper summarizes it as follows:

The Harvard Shareholder Rights Project (“Harvard SRP”) has, on more than 120 occasions, invoked SEC Rule 14a-8 to propose precatory shareholder resolutions calling for the de-staggering of corporate boards of directors (the “Harvard Proposal”), and claims to have contributed to de-staggering at approximately 100 of America’s largest publicly traded corporations. The Harvard Proposal relies on a summary of academic research that portrays staggered boards as categorically detrimental to shareholder interests, and cites only one study reaching a contrary conclusion, while dismissing that study’s analysis.

…continue reading: Did Harvard Violate Federal Securities Law?

Some Thoughts for Boards of Directors in 2015

Editor’s Note: Martin Lipton is a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, specializing in mergers and acquisitions and matters affecting corporate policy and strategy. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton memorandum by Mr. Lipton, Stephen A. Rosenblum, and Karessa L. Cain.

The challenges that directors of public companies face in carrying out their duties continue to grow. The end goal remains the same, to oversee the successful, profitable and sustainable operations of their companies. But the pressures that confront directors, from activism and short-termism, to ongoing shifts in governance, to global risks and competition, are many. A few weeks ago we issued an updated list of key issues that boards will be expected to deal with in the coming year (accessible at this link: The Spotlight on Boards, and discussed on the Forum here). Highlighted below are a few of the more significant issues and trends that we believe directors should bear in mind as they consider their companies’ priorities and objectives and seek to meet their companies’ goals.

…continue reading: Some Thoughts for Boards of Directors in 2015

ESG Risks and Opportunities Facing Investee Companies

Posted by Kobi Kastiel, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Sunday November 30, 2014 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Rakhi Kumar, Head of Corporate Governance at State Street Global Advisors, and is based on an SSgA publication; the complete publication is available here.

As part of our active ownership process, State Street Global Advisors (“SSgA”) considers environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) matters while evaluating and engaging with investee companies. SSgA believes that ESG factors can impact the reputation of companies and can also create significant operational risks and costs to businesses. Conversely, well-developed corporate social responsibility (“CSR”) programs [1] can generate efficiencies, enhance productivity and mitigate risks, all of which impact shareholder value.

…continue reading: ESG Risks and Opportunities Facing Investee Companies

ISS and Glass Lewis Update Proxy Voting Guidelines for 2015

Posted by Yaron Nili, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Saturday November 29, 2014 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Yafit Cohn, Associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, and is based on a Simpson Thacher memorandum.

Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (“ISS”) and Glass Lewis have both released updates to their respective proxy voting guidelines. [1] ISS’s revised policies will take effect for annual meetings occurring on or after February 1, 2015. Glass Lewis’s new policies will take effect for meetings occurring after January 1, 2015, while its clarifications of existing policies are effective immediately.

…continue reading: ISS and Glass Lewis Update Proxy Voting Guidelines for 2015

Global Banks at a Strategic Crossroad

Posted by Kobi Kastiel, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Friday November 28, 2014 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Rakhi Kumar, Head of Corporate Governance at State Street Global Advisors, and is based on an SSgA publication; the complete publication, including appendix, is available here.

In Q1 and early Q2 2014, SSgA actively engaged with 15 global banks ahead of the proxy voting season. These engagements were conducted jointly with members of SSgA’s investment and governance teams. Our engagement addressed specific governance issues at each bank and also encompassed a wider discussion on the changing regulatory landscape and its impact on business strategy, capital requirements, operations and risk management, and the bank’s global footprint. Below we have provided the perspectives and insights gleaned from our engagement activities with banks this year.

…continue reading: Global Banks at a Strategic Crossroad

The Next Wave of Proxy Access Proposals

Posted by Yaron Nili, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Monday November 24, 2014 at 9:14 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from David J. Berger, partner focusing on corporate governance at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, and is based on a WSGR Alert memorandum.

The Comptroller of the City of New York, who oversees pension funds with a combined $160 billion in assets, recently submitted proxy access shareholder proposals at 75 U.S. public companies as part of its Boardroom Accountability Project. [1] These 75 companies, representing a wide range of industries and market capitalizations, were targeted based on three “priority issues”: climate change, board diversity, and executive compensation.

“Proxy access” proposals seek to provide shareholders with a mechanism for placing their nominees for director in a company’s proxy statement and on its proxy card, thereby avoiding the cost to a shareholder of sending out its own proxy statement. Under a typical proxy access bylaw, shareholders must hold a specified amount of stock in the company (e.g., 3 percent) for a certain period (e.g., 3 years), in addition to meeting other procedural requirements. Proponents of proxy access argue that it provides shareholders with a cost-effective means of running their own candidates for director, providing all shareholders with greater ability to shape the composition of the board.

…continue reading: The Next Wave of Proxy Access Proposals

ISS and Glass Lewis Voting Guidelines for 2015 Proxy Season

Posted by Kobi Kastiel, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Thursday November 20, 2014 at 9:39 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Edmond T. FitzGerald, partner and head of the Executive Compensation Group at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, and is based on a Davis Polk client memorandum by Kyoko T. Lin and Ning Chiu.

ISS and Glass Lewis, two influential proxy advisory firms, have both released updates to their policies that govern recommendations for how shareholders should cast their votes on significant ballot items for the 2015 proxy season, including governance, compensation and environmental and social matters.

ISS policy updates are effective for annual meetings after February 1, 2015. We understand that the new Glass Lewis policies are effective for annual meetings after January 1, 2015, but clarifications to existing policies are effective immediately.

…continue reading: ISS and Glass Lewis Voting Guidelines for 2015 Proxy Season

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