Tag: Rule 14a-11

Proxy Access Bylaw Developments and Trends

Janet T. Geldzahler is of counsel at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP. This post is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication by Ms. Geldzahler, H. Rodgin Cohen, Robert W. Reeder III, and Marc Trevino. The complete publication, including Annexes, is available here. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Lucian Bebchuk’s The Case for Shareholder Access to the Ballot and The Myth of the Shareholder Franchise (discussed on the Forum here), and Private Ordering and the Proxy Access Debate by Lucian Bebchuk and Scott Hirst (discussed on the Forum here).

The significant success of shareholder proxy access proposals this year is likely to result in even more shareholder proposals for proxy access in the 2016 proxy season. As of August 13, 2015, 82 shareholder proxy access proposals have come to a vote in 2015, and 48 have passed. In many cases, shareholder proposals were approved despite a pre-existing bylaw (most often adopted after the receipt of the shareholder proposal) or a conflicting proposal by the company with modestly more restrictive terms. The average vote in favor of all proposals was 54.4%, and ISS recommended for all shareholder proxy access proposals.

This post summarizes developments in the area of proxy access, including an analysis of the record of company responses to shareholder proxy access proposals received during 2015 (with further detail set forth in Annex A of the complete publication). Those companies that receive a proxy access shareholder proposal or that are evaluating preemptive adoption of a proxy access provision will want to consider the appropriate terms and requirements. In all cases, as a matter of preparedness, companies should be aware of options to respond to potential shareholder proxy access proposals. For more information regarding shareholder proposals generally, our 2015 Proxy Season Review (discussed on the Forum here), which we distributed on July 20, details the results of these proposals during the 2015 proxy seasons.


CII on Proxy Access

Elizabeth Ising is a partner and Co-Chair of the Securities Regulation and Corporate Governance practice group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. This post is based on a Gibson Dunn client alert by Ms. Ising, Lori Zyskowski, and Ronald O. Mueller.

[On August 5, 2015] the Council of Institutional Investors (“CII”), a nonprofit association of corporate, public and union employee benefit funds and endowments that seeks to promote effective corporate governance practices for U.S. companies and strong shareholder rights and protections, published a report titled “Proxy Access: Best Practices” that describes CII’s views on seven provisions that companies typically address when implementing proxy access. The CII report is available here, and was discussed on the Forum here.


Is Proxy Access Inevitable?

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 by Ms. Gregory, John P. Kelsh, Thomas J. Kim, Rebecca Grapsas, and Claire H. Holland. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance about proxy access include Lucian Bebchuk’s The Case for Shareholder Access to the Ballot and The Myth of the Shareholder Franchise (discussed on the Forum here), and Private Ordering and the Proxy Access Debate by Lucian Bebchuk and Scott Hirst (discussed on the Forum here).

Efforts by shareholders to directly influence corporate decision-making are intensifying, as demonstrated by the significant increase over the past three years in financially focused shareholder activism and the more recent efforts by large institutional investors to encourage directors to “engage” with shareholders more directly.

Through the collective efforts of large institutional investors, including public and private pension funds, shareholders at a significant number of companies are likely within the next several years to gain the power to nominate a portion of the board without undertaking the expense of a proxy solicitation. By obtaining proxy access (the ability to include shareholder nominees in the company’s own proxy materials) activists and other shareholders will have an additional weapon in their arsenal to influence board decisions.

2015 Benchmark US Proxy Voting Policies FAQ

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:


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

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.


Proxy Access in the US

The following post comes to us from Matt Orsagh, director at CFA Institute, and is based on the summary of a CFA publication, titled Proxy Access in the United States: Revisiting the Proposed SEC Rule; the complete publication is available here.

In this summary of CFA Institute findings, we take a brief look at the history of proxy access, discuss the pertinent academic studies, examine the benefits and limits of cost–benefit analysis, analyze the use of proxy access in non-US jurisdictions, and draw some conclusions.

How We Got Here

Proxy access refers to the ability of shareowners to place their nominees for director on a company’s proxy ballot. This right is available in many markets, though not in the United States. Supporters of proxy access argue that it increases the accountability of corporate boards by allowing shareowners to nominate a limited number of board directors. Afraid that special-interest groups could hijack the process, opponents of proxy access are also concerned about its cost and are not convinced that proxy access would improve either company or board performance.


Business Roundtable and the Future of SEC Rulemaking

Jill E. Fisch is a Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has suffered a number of recent setbacks in areas ranging from enforcement policy to rulemaking. One of the most serious was the DC Circuit’s 2011 decision in Business Roundtable v. SEC, in which the court invalidated the SEC’s proxy access rule, Rule 14a-11, on the basis that the SEC had failed to conduct an adequate cost-benefit analysis. By imposing an onerous, and possibly insurmountable procedural burden, the decision threatens to paralyze rulemaking by the SEC and other administrative agencies. The effect is particularly troubling in light of the heavy rulemaking obligations imposed by Dodd-Frank and the JOBS Act.

In my article, The Long Road Back: Business Roundtable and the Future of SEC Rulemaking (forthcoming in Seattle University Law Review), I critically evaluate the Business Roundtable decision. Specifically, I argue that, although Rule 14a-11 suffered from a number of flaws, flaws I have noted in other work (see Fisch, The Destructive Ambiguity of Federal Proxy Access, 61 Emory L. J. 435 (2012)), the deficiencies in SEC’s rule-making that led to the adoption of Rule 14a-11 cannot accurately be ascribed to inadequate economic analysis. Nor is the demanding standard imposed by DC Circuit’s decision a product of the statutory constraints on SEC rulemaking. Rather it stems from the court’s skepticism about proxy access and the SEC’s policymaking generally.

The SEC’s inability to defend its proxy access rule against attack was, in part, a product of two important constraints on its policy formation – the notice and comment requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act and the Government in the Sunshine Act. Although commentators have defended both these requirements in terms of transparency and democratic values, they sacrifice consensus building as well as decision-making efficiency, and they allow for the increased influence of political forces and interest groups. These sacrifices are of particular concern in the context of SEC rulemaking and, I argue, were at the heart of a problematic Rule 14a-11.


Proxy Access: Upcoming Votes at FRX, MDT and HRB

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.


Proxy Access Proposals: Review of 2012 Results and Outlook for 2013

James Morphy is a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP specializing in mergers & acquisitions and corporate governance. This post is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication, available here. Work on proxy access from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Private Ordering and the Proxy Access Debate by Bebchuk and Hirst.

Update: An updated version of the memo on which this post is based is available here.

Pursuant to SEC rule changes that took effect in September 2011, shareholders are now permitted to submit and vote on “proxy access proposals” – that is, proposals to give shareholders the right to include director nominees in the company’s proxy materials. Over 20 such shareholder proposals (half of which were binding) were submitted during the 2012 proxy season, of which only eight have come to a vote. Many of the proposals that did not come to a vote were deemed excludable from proxy statements by the staff of the SEC for a variety of technical reasons. We have included on the following page a chart of the terms and outcomes of proxy access proposals submitted to date.

The vote results from this limited pool suggest that shareholders are hesitant to approve proposals that would give a proxy access right to holders of a small number of shares, but are more supportive of proposals that have ownership requirements that are similar to the 3%/3-year threshold that would have applied under the SEC’s now-vacated mandatory proxy access rule.


SEC Not Pursuing Mandatory Proxy Access at this Time

Andrew R. Brownstein is a partner in the Corporate Department at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. This post is based on a Wachtell Lipton firm memorandum by Mr. Brownstein, Trevor S. Norwitz, and S. Iliana Ongun. Work on proxy access from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Private Ordering and the Proxy Access Debate by Bebchuk and Hirst.

Testifying recently before a House Financial Services subcommittee, SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro stated that, because of capacity constraints, proposing a revised mandatory rule on shareholder access to company proxy materials is “not on the Commission’s immediate agenda.” She noted, however, that the issue is one that the SEC will “continue to look at over time.”

Last summer, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the SEC’s Rule 14a-11, finding that the SEC had “acted arbitrarily and capriciously” in adopting the rule without adequately assessing its economic effects. At the time, the SEC said that it was considering its options but noted that its changes facilitating private ordering in proxy access were not impacted by the Court’s decision.

In the current 2012 proxy season, less than two dozen companies have received proxy access proposals. This modest level of activity is in part explained by activist shareholders waiting to learn whether or not the SEC would be re-promulgating a mandatory rule. Because it is now clear that this will not happen, at least not for the 2013 proxy season, we can expect the focus on private ordering through shareholder proposals to continue and increase.


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