In light of increased transparency and governance expectations imposed by shareholder advisory groups and increasingly aggressive attempts by plaintiffs’ firms to enjoin shareholder votes on key compensation issues, U.S. public companies face a substantial burden to provide adequate disclosure in their annual proxy statements. This Director Notes examines the key disclosure issues and challenges facing companies during the 2013 proxy season and provides examples of company responses to these issues taken from proxy statements filed during the first half of 2013.
U.S. public companies face a substantial burden to provide adequate disclosure in their annual proxy statements. In addition to complying with a growing number of increasingly burdensome disclosure rules from Congress and the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), companies must take into account corporate governance guidelines from institutional shareholder advisory groups such as Institutional Shareholder Services (“ISS”) and Glass Lewis & Co. Moreover, a recent wave of proxy injunction lawsuits has added to this burden and created additional issues and challenges for companies. The plaintiffs’ bar has also been actively pursuing damage claims against public companies based on disclosure and corporate governance issues, including issues relating to Section 162(m) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended (the “Code”). All of these developments present many traps for the unwary. As a result, companies should review their executive compensation disclosure and their say-on-pay and equity plan proposals to determine whether additional disclosures, beyond those required by statutes and rules, are appropriate to attempt to reduce the risk of a potential lawsuit or investigation by a plaintiff’s law firm.