Posts Tagged ‘James McRitchie’

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 Corporation Finance has since effectively rescinded its no-action relief to Whole Foods and stated that it has no view of Rule 14a-8(i)(9).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

Appeal of No-Action on Proxy Access at Whole Foods Markets

Editor’s Note: James McRitchie is the publisher of CorpGov.net.

Shareholders have been engaged in a long struggle to obtain proxy access—the idea that shareowners should be allowed to place their own board nominations on the proxies distributed by management, much as we are allowed to place our own proposals on those proxies. Shareholders should not accept the most recent roadblock, a reactive substitute proposal, by the management of Whole Foods Market (Whole Foods) and acquiescence in the form of a no-action letter from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The idea of proxy access certainly is not new. In 1980 Unicare Services included a proposal to allow any three shareowners to nominate and place candidates on the proxy. Shareowners at Mobil proposed a “reasonable number,” while those at Union Oil proposed a threshold of “500 or more shareholders” to place nominees on corporate proxies. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) submitted a proposal in 1988 but withdrew it when Texaco agreed to include their nominee.

…continue reading: Appeal of No-Action on Proxy Access at Whole Foods Markets

Proxy Access: Upcoming Votes at FRX, MDT and HRB

Posted by James McRitchie, CorpGov.net, on Monday August 13, 2012 at 9:26 am
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Editor’s Note: James McRitchie is the publisher of CorpGov.net. Work on proxy access from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Private Ordering and the Proxy Access Debate by Bebchuk and Hirst.

As participants in the Forum know, SEC rule changes that took effect in September 2011 once again allow shareowners the right to submit and vote on “proxy access proposals” as we had done prior to an underground reinterpretation of SEC rules in 1990 and during a brief window of opportunity after AFSCME v AIG (2006). These proposals give shareowners the right to include director nominees in the company’s proxy materials. Arguably, the most innovative recent models of such proposals have now withstood the SEC “no-action” process and will soon come to a vote at Forest Labs (FRX) on August 15th, Medtronic (MDT) on August 23rd and H&R Block (HRB) on September 13th.

Download a PowerPoint presentation and/or read the paper (pdf) on these important proposals. All three proposals were introduced by long-time activist Kenneth Steiner, with the help of John Chevedden. Design of the proposal came from a team of United States Proxy Exchange (USPX) members, including James McRitchie, Glyn Holton, Brett Davidson, Steve Neiman, Daniel Rudewicz, Steven Towns and others, with helpful input from a variety of their contacts.

…continue reading: Proxy Access: Upcoming Votes at FRX, MDT and HRB

An Open Proposal for Client Directed Voting

Posted by James McRitchie, CorpGov.net, on Wednesday July 14, 2010 at 9:08 am
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Editor’s Note: James McRitchie is the publisher of CorpGov.net.

According to the SEC, “client directed voting” will be included in a forthcoming concept release on “proxy plumbing” issues and SEC Chairman Mary L. Schapiro now indicates review by the Commission is forthcoming (see this post on the Forum). It is critical that shareowners become familiar with this term. The SEC can shape their concept release to facilitate entrenchment, by essentially reestablishing a limited form of broker voting, or their framework can further the interests of shareowners and the larger society through an open and competitive system.

Background

Historically, most retail shareowners toss their proxies. During the first year under the “notice and access” method for Internet delivery of proxy materials, less than 6% voted. This contrasts with almost all institutional investors voting, since they have a fiduciary duty to do so. “Client directed voting” (CDV), a term coined by Stephen Norman, is seen by many as a solution for getting more retail shareowners to vote, ensuring companies get a quorum, and helping management recapture a good portion of the broker-votes cast in their favor that evaporated with recent reforms. An open form of CDV, could result in similar impacts but would also create much more thoughtful and robust corporate elections.

…continue reading: An Open Proposal for Client Directed Voting

Who Should Submit Shareowner Proposals?

Posted by James McRitchie, CorpGov.net, on Tuesday March 9, 2010 at 10:02 am
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Editor’s Note: James McRitchie is the publisher of CorpGov.net. This post relates to Apache Corp. v. Chevedden, S.D. Tex., No. 4;10-cv-00076, 1/8/10. The court documents in that case are available here.

In Apache v. Chevedden, Apache’s court brief says: “When it comes to shareholder proposals, Apache is the ‘David’ and Chevedden is the ‘Goliath.’” That seems strange coming from a $33 billion market cap company. However, after reading their brief, I agree; the company seems to be at a disadvantage. They don’t seem to know how corporate ownership in America works.

The lawsuit stems from what appears to be ambiguous language contained in SEC Rule 14a-8(b)(2) regarding how to demonstrate proof of ownership when submitting a shareowner proposal.

… at the time you submit your proposal, you must prove your eligibility to the company in one of two ways:

(i) The first way is to submit to the company a written statement from the “record” holder of your securities (usually a broker or bank) verifying that, at the time you submitted your proposal, you continuously held the securities for at least one year. You must also include your own written statement that you intend to continue to hold the securities through the date of the meeting of shareowners …

…continue reading: Who Should Submit Shareowner Proposals?

Street Name Registration: An Antiquated Idea

Posted by Scott Hirst, co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Saturday January 30, 2010 at 9:25 am
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Editor’s Note: This post comes to us from James McRitchie, Editor of CorpGov.net and Glyn Holton, Executive Director, United States Proxy Exchange.

“Street name registration” largely took root under emergency conditions stemming from a paperwork crisis during the 1960s, before networked computers were ubiquitous in trading markets. Immobilizing stock and registering it in the name Cede &Co., which was presumed by many to a temporary measure, now undermines our ownership culture.

Just as poker chips allow us to play under rules that often favor the house, those holding “security entitlements,” instead of registered stock, do not acquire the rights of real shareowners.

Street name registration, and the costs associated with shareowners learning each other’s identity, escalates the cost of proxy solicitations to hundreds of thousands of dollars—and that exorbitant cost is why entrenched boards routinely run unopposed. Eliminating street name registration, in favor of a direct registration system (DRS), could bring the cost of proxy solicitation down to a few thousand dollars. That could have a bigger impact on shareowner rights than the SEC’s proposed proxy access initiative.

…continue reading: Street Name Registration: An Antiquated Idea

Don’t Let Companies Change Shareholders’ Blank Votes

Posted by Andrew Tuch, co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation on Tuesday June 2, 2009 at 10:41 am
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Editor’s Note: This post comes to us from James McRitchie, Publisher of CorpGov.net.

Please take a few minutes to read and submit comments on a rulemaking petition that a group of ten filed with the SEC on Friday, May 15th, to amend Rule 14a-4(b)(1). The petition seeks to correct a problem brought to our attention by John Chevedden, long-time shareowner activist. See petition File 4-583 here. Send comments to  rule-comments at sec.gov with File 4-583 in the subject line.

The problem is that when retail shareowners vote but leave items on their proxy blank, those items are routinely voted by their bank or broker as the subject company’s soliciting committee recommends. Current SEC rules grant them discretion to do so. As shareowners who believe in democracy, we have filed suggested amendments to take away that discretionary authority to change blank votes, or non-votes, as they might be termed. We believe that when voting fields are left blank on the proxy by the shareowner, they should be counted as abstentions.

This problem is not the same as “broker voting,” which has already been repealed on “non-routine” matters and, we hope, will soon be repealed for so-called “routine” matters, such as the election of directors. For example, even though “broker voting” has been repealed for shareowner resolutions, if a shareowner votes one item on their proxy and leaves shareowner resolutions blank, unvoted, those blank votes are routinely changed to be voted as recommended by the company’s soliciting committee.

See two examples. At Interface, I voted only to abstain on ratification of the auditors. Yet, you can seeProxyVote automatically fills in my blank votes with votes as recommended by the soliciting committee. A second example, at Staples, shows much the same. You can see blank votes that are changed also include the shareowner proposal to reincorporate to North Dakota, even though such proposals are not considered routine and are not subject to “broker voting.”

Just as broker votes should be eliminated so that votes counted reflect the true sentiment of shareowners, the practice of converting blank votes to votes for management should also end.

In our petition, we also highlight a secondary concern. When shareowners utilizing the ProxyVoteplatform of Broadridge vote at least one item and leave others blank, the subsequent screen warns them that their blank votes well be voted as recommended by the soliciting committee. This provides an opportunity to the shareowner to change their blank vote before final submission, if they don’t want it to be voted as recommended.

…continue reading: Don’t Let Companies Change Shareholders’ Blank Votes

 
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