During the 2012 proxy season, the SEC staff concurred that a number of high profile shareholder proposals could be excluded from company proxy statements because various key terms in the proposals were not adequately defined or explained within the text of the proposal and supporting statement. See e.g., WellPoint, Inc. (SEIU Master Trust) (avail. Feb. 24, 2012, recon. denied Mar. 27, 2012) (concurring with exclusion of an independent chair proposal that referred to the New York Stock Exchange standard of independence without defining it because “neither shareholders nor the company would be able to determine with any reasonable certainty exactly what actions or measures the proposal requires”); Textron Inc. (avail. Mar. 7, 2012) (arguing that a reference to the Rule 14a-8 eligibility requirements in a proxy access shareholder proposal was vague and indefinite, although the staff ultimately concurred with the exclusion of the shareholder proposal on other grounds); Dell Inc. (avail. Mar. 30, 2012) (concurring with the exclusion of a similar proxy access shareholder proposal because the proposal’s reference to the Rule 14a-8 eligibility requirements was vague and indefinite). While these no-action letters reflected long-standing SEC staff precedent, in the current proxy season, there has continued to be a large number of no-action requests arguing that various terms in shareholder proposals are undefined or vague and therefore excludable under Rule 14a-8(i)(3).
Posts Tagged ‘Amy Goodman’
Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”) and Glass, Lewis & Co., Inc. (“Glass Lewis”), the two major proxy advisory firms, recently released updates to their proxy voting policies for the 2013 proxy season. The ISS U.S. Corporate Governance Policy 2013 Updates (the “ISS Policy Updates”), which are available at http://issgovernance.com/policy/2013/policy_information, apply to shareholder meetings held on or after February 1, 2013. ISS also has released updated Frequently Asked Questions (the “ISS FAQs”), available at the link above, relating to its 2013 policies. The Glass Lewis Proxy Paper Guidelines for the 2013 Proxy Season (the “Glass Lewis Guidelines”) will be effective for annual meetings held on or after January 1, 2013. A summary of the updates to the Glass Lewis Guidelines is available here. This alert reviews the most significant ISS and Glass Lewis updates and suggested steps for companies to consider in light of these updated proxy voting policies.
With the arrival of fall, calendar-year companies are gearing up for what promises to be another busy proxy season, preparing for new rules that will impact their disclosures and governance practices, and planning their 2013 board and committee calendars. To assist public companies in these endeavors, we discuss below ten key items for corporate secretaries and in-house counsel to consider.
Earlier this year we reported on the UK Government’s proposals to give shareholders of companies greater influence over executive pay through the use of binding votes.
Since the draft proposals were announced the UK has seen the so-called “Shareholder Spring” with majority votes against remuneration reports under the current ‘advisory’ (non-binding) regime at Aviva, Cairn Energy, Pendragon, and WPP; and sizeable votes against the reports at Xstrata (40% against), Barclays, Cookson and UBM (approx. 25% or more against) amongst others.
Building on the momentum created by shareholders on June 20, 2012, the UK Government announced its detailed proposals for a far-reaching reform of the approval mechanism for executive pay, including the use of binding votes. The proposals will likely apply (we await detail) to so-called ‘quoted companies’ (see further below).
On March 14, 2012, the UK Government published a consultation paper on its proposals to give shareholders of quoted companies a greater influence over executive pay.
The Government proposes to introduce a binding shareholder vote on executive pay policy (possibly requiring a 65% or 75% super majority), a non-binding shareholder vote on the subsequent application of that pay policy and a binding shareholder vote on exit payments in excess of one year’s basic salary.
The new rules would apply to certain UK quoted companies. The new rules would apply to those companies with either a standard or a premium listing on the London Stock Exchange main market and UK incorporated companies listed on the NYSE, NASDAQ or officially listed in another EEA member state but would not apply to companies trading on AIM or the Plus Growth market. The rules would replace the existing requirement for a non-binding vote on the director’s remuneration report.
Existing Regulation of Executive Pay
Since 2003 UK company law has required that quoted companies produce a directors’ remuneration report (which forms part of their annual report and accounts) and seek an advisory vote on that remuneration report. These reports provide detailed disclosure of the pay and benefits for the financial year in question but contain limited information about the bonus and incentive targets for the following financial year.
Business Roundtable and the Chamber of Commerce have challenged SEC rules requiring public companies in certain circumstances to include shareholder nominees for director in the company’s proxy materials. The final rules comprise two main rules: (1) Rule 14a-11, which would require a publicly-traded company to include in its proxy materials a candidate nominated by shareholders that have held shares representing at least 3 percent of the voting power of the company’s stock for the past 3 years; and (2) amendments to Rule 14a-8(i)(8), which would require companies in certain circumstances to include in their proxy materials shareholder proposals regarding director nomination procedures. The Business Roundtable and Chamber of Commerce have challenged Rule 14a-11 and its related amendments, but not amended Rule 14a-8(i)(8). The Summary of Argument from the Business Roundtable and Chamber of Commerce Opening Brief appears below.
On Friday, October 8, 2010, the SEC and the petitioners jointly filed a proposed briefing schedule for the case before the Court of Appeals. In the filing, the SEC confirmed that it does not expect proxy access to be available for the 2011 proxy season, and instead seeks a court ruling by the summer of 2011, so that if the rules are upheld, they may be used in the 2012 proxy season. The motion stated that the stay “necessarily means that the Commission’s rule changes will not be available for use by shareholders during the 2010-2011 proxy season.”A copy of the motion is available here.
In their joint motion, the parties proposed to the court that the case be briefed in November through February, with the petitioners’ brief due on November 30, 2010 and the SEC’s brief due on January 19, 2011. Oral argument would be expected in March or April under this schedule, with a decision by the summer. The schedule is subject to approval by the Court of Appeals.
The current economic and regulatory landscape poses unprecedented challenges for public companies and their boards of directors. They are facing scrutiny from shareholders, Congress, regulators and the public, and new proposals to address the causes of the financial crisis have been emerging on almost a daily basis for over a year now.
Some of these proposals have been adopted and some remain under consideration at a time when calendar-year companies are preparing for the 2010 proxy season, complicating the planning process. Of particular note, in December, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) adopted new proxy disclosure rules that likely will be a focal point for public company directors, as the new rules relate to disclosures regarding the composition and operation of boards of directors.  This memorandum is an update of our client alert covering considerations for public company directors in the current environment issued on October 15, 2009.
At an open meeting held on December 16, 2009, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) approved a set of proposed rules to enhance the information provided to shareholders in company proxy statements regarding a number of risk oversight, compensation, board leadership and composition and other corporate governance matters. The SEC approved the final rules by a 4-to-1 vote, with Commissioner Kathleen Casey dissenting. The SEC released the text of the final rules on the same date they were adopted, with the 129 page adopting release available here.
The new rules have an effective date of February 28, 2010, except that a rule change on how equity awards are reported in the Summary Compensation Table applies to all companies with fiscal years ending after December 20, 2009. Because all of the rule changes other than the equity reporting rule call for enhanced disclosures, companies presumably could, but would not be required to, voluntarily comply with all of the new rules even if they file their definitive proxy statements before February 28, 2010.
On November 25, 2009, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) approved amendments to the corporate governance listing standards of the New York Stock Exchange (“NYSE”). The changes will take effect on January 1, 2010.
As discussed in more detail below, the amendments, which the SEC approved in the form proposed in the NYSE’s original release: (1) codify certain staff interpretations, (2) clarify various disclosure requirements, and (3) incorporate applicable SEC disclosure requirements into the NYSE listing standards. Because most of the amendments conform the NYSE listing standards to existing SEC rules, or are of a clarifying or updating nature, they should necessitate only minimal changes to a listed company’s governance practices and disclosures. The most significant change is the new requirement that companies notify the NYSE in writing after any executive officer becomes aware of “any” non-compliance with the corporate governance listing standards, rather than any “material” non-compliance, as currently required.
The SEC release approving the NYSE amendments can be found here. The NYSE filing outlining the proposed amendments includes a mark-up showing the proposed changes to the text of the corporate governance listing standards.