Monthly Archives: February 2015

Considerations on the Use of Electronic Board Portals

The following post comes to us from Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, and is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication.

Board portals and other mechanisms for the electronic dissemination of information to directors of public companies, non-profits and other organizations are in widespread use. Many companies have found that these portals can offer significant benefits, including improved document security, speed and ease of distribution and, for many directors, improved efficiency and ease of access to board materials.

Boards and management should be aware, however, that there is increasing discussion, including among Delaware jurists and practitioners on both the plaintiff and defense sides, concerning possible negatives associated with board portals and other electronic communications, if not properly managed. There are two areas in particular that merit thoughtful attention.


The Difficulties of Reconciling Citizens United with Corporate Law History

The following post is based on a recent article earlier issued as a working paper of the Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance, by Leo Strine, Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court and a Senior Fellow of the Program, and Nicholas Walter, associate in the litigation department at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. The article, Originalist or Original: The Difficulties of Reconciling Citizens United with Corporate Law History, is available here. Related research from the authors includes Conservative Collision Course?: The Tension between Conservative Corporate Law Theory and Citizens United, discussed on the Forum here. Research from the Program on Corporate Governance about corporate political spending includes Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending by Lucian Bebchuk and Robert Jackson, discussed on the Forum here, Corporate Political Speech: Who Decides? by Lucian Bebchuk and Robert Jackson, available here. and Conservative Collision Course?: The Tension between Conservative Corporate Law Theory and Citizens United by Leo Strine and Nicholas Walter, discussed on the Forum here.

Citizens United has been the subject of a great deal of commentary, but one important aspect of the decision that has not been explored in detail is the historical basis for Justice Scalia’s claims in his concurring opinion that the majority holding is consistent with originalism. In this article, we engage in a deep inquiry into the historical understanding of the rights of the business corporation as of 1791 and 1868—two periods relevant to an originalist analysis of the First Amendment. Based on the historical record, Citizens United is far more original than originalist, and if the decision is to be justified, it has to be on jurisprudential grounds originalists traditionally disclaim as illegitimate. The article is available on SSRN at

Citizens United v. FEC struck down McCain-Feingold’s restraints on electoral expenditures by corporations. In his concurring opinion, Justice Scalia argued that the decision could be justified through the originalist approach to constitutional interpretation. In particular, Justice Scalia asserted that there was “no evidence” that, at the time of the Founding, corporations were not subject to government regulation of their ability to spend money to advocate the election or defeat of political candidates.


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:


Does Short Selling Discipline Earnings Manipulation?

The following post comes to us from Massimo Massa, Professor of Finance at INSEAD; Bohui Zhang of UNSW Business School, and Hong Zhang of the PBC School of Finance, Tsinghua University.

The experience of the recent financial crisis has brought to the attention the role of short selling. Short selling has been identified as a factor that contributes to market informational efficiency. At the same time, however, short selling has been regarded as “dangerous” to the stability of the financial markets and has been banned in many countries. Interestingly, these two seemingly conflicting views are based on the same traditional wisdom that short selling affects only the way in which information is incorporated into market prices by making the market reaction either more effective or overly sensitive to existing information but does not affect the behavior of firm managers, who may shape, if not generate, information in the first place.


Chairman’s Address at SEC Speaks 2015

Mary Jo White is Chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Chair White’s recent address at the Practising Law Institute’s SEC Speaks in 2015 Conference; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in this post are those of Chair White and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

By every meaningful measure, 2014 was a year of significant accomplishment across all of the agency’s areas of responsibility. The year was highlighted by the completion of several transformative rulemakings, including new policy reforms to address faults exposed during the financial crisis and initiatives to better address vulnerabilities in the resiliency and integrity of our markets. It was also an unprecedented year in enforcement, in terms of the number of cases and, more importantly, their subject matter. We made important strides in our review and action plans for optimizing the structure of our equity and fixed income markets, enhancing our risk supervision of the asset management industry and bolstering the effectiveness of public company disclosure. We also significantly strengthened our examination coverage of market participants. But, as always, we have more to do and expect a very busy 2015.


Setting Forth Goals for 2015

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s recent address at the Practising Law Institute’s SEC Speaks in 2015 Conference; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Aguilar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

During the past seven years, the SEC has taken action on a significant number of issues. There is little doubt, that these years have been one of the most active periods in SEC history. For example, during this period, the Commission voted on almost 250 rulemaking releases, both proposing rules and adopting final rules. Many of these rulemakings have been ground-breaking.

Still, even with all that activity, the SEC has not finished its work on many ongoing issues, such as the need to improve disclosures related to target-date funds and municipal securities. The Commission also has not completed many of its outstanding statutory mandates. I plan to use my time with you today [February 20, 2015] to lay out a few important priorities that the SEC should pursue in 2015 in order to move toward completing its outstanding work, to strengthen the Commission and do right by the public.


A Fair, Orderly, and Efficient SEC

Michael S. Piwowar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Piwowar’s recent address at the Practising Law Institute’s SEC Speaks in 2015 Conference; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Piwowar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

I appreciate the opportunity to be here today [Feb. 20, 2015] with so many of the SEC staff, former SEC staff, and other members of the securities community. “SEC Speaks” provides us with the chance to reflect on all of the Commission’s accomplishments in the past year, which are the result of the hard work and dedication of the staff. At the same time, it is also an appropriate venue for considering what else we can do to effectively carry out our mission to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation. I would suggest that the answer to how we can build upon the accomplishments of the past year is to apply the same objective that we have for the markets we regulate—that they be fair, orderly, and efficient—to ourselves. And so, I would like to discuss how we can make the SEC a more fair, orderly, and efficient agency.

Before going any further, lest you think that what I say necessary reflects the views of the Commission or my fellow Commissioners, I want to assure all of you that the views I express today are solely my own.


Proxy Access, SEC Uncertainty and Related Issues in 2015

The following post comes to us from Bill Libit, Chief Operating Partner concentrating in corporate and securities and municipal finance at Chapman and Cutler LLP, and is based on a Chapman publication by Mr. Libit and Todd Freier; the complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

The rise of shareholder activism in the realm of corporate governance has increasingly focused on board performance and the right of shareholders to replace those directors who are perceived to underperform. One proposed approach to facilitate the replacement of underperforming directors is to give shareholders direct access to the company’s proxy materials, including permitting the inclusion of a shareholder-proposed director nominee (or slate of nominees) and a statement in support thereof in the company’s proxy statement (which such approach is more commonly referred to as “proxy access”). Although current U.S. securities regulations do not grant shareholders access to company proxy materials, proxy access may be available to shareholders by way of a company’s organizational documents (e.g., articles of incorporation, bylaws or corporate governance guidelines), as permitted by state corporate law.

While proxy access did not garner significant attention over the past two proxy seasons, it is one of the most notable early developments of the 2015 proxy season. It has been reported that shareholders have submitted an estimated 100 proxy access proposals to U.S. companies, a considerable number of which will be voted upon by shareholders over the next several months. Proxy access will very likely be one of the most contentious corporate governance issues this proxy season.


Say on Pay in Italian General Meetings

The following post comes to us from Sabrina Bruno at University of Calabria and Fabio Bianconi at Georgeson Srl.

Our paper, Say on Pay in Italian General Meetings: Results and Future Perspectives, provides an analysis of the empirical data of shareholders’ say on pay in Italian general meetings in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Say on pay, a shareholders’ advisory vote on a company’s remuneration policy, was introduced in Italy following the European Commission (EC) Recommendations N. 2004/913/EC, N. 2005/162/EC, N. 2009/384/EC and N. 2009/385/EC, which allowed member States to choose between implementing a binding or non-binding advisory shareholder vote on a company’s remuneration policy. Like most European states, Italy has opted for the “weaker” non-binding option. Reference is made to both approval votes (by controlling shareholders) and dissenting votes sometimes casted by minority shareholders (mainly, foreign institutional investors). The dissenting vote, in particular, shows a paramount critical value as originating by shareholders who are independent from the directors involved by the resolution—unlike the controlling shareholders who have nominated and subsequently elected the directors (to whom may often be linked by family or economic ties). In recent years, a significant increase in voting by minority shareholders, mainly foreign institutional investors, regarding—but not limited to—remuneration policies has been noted. This is a direct consequence of the procedural changes introduced by the Shareholder Rights’ Directive n. 36/2007/EC (e.g. record date, reduction of threshold to call special meeting, relaxation of proxy voting and solicitation rules, extension of time—prior to general meeting—to release relevant information for the items of the agenda and translation of documents into English, etc.).


The HSR Act’s Investment-Only Exemption for Targets and Activist Investors

The following post comes to us from Barry A. Nigro Jr., partner in the Antitrust and Competition and Corporate Practices and chair of the Antitrust Department at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP, and is based on a Fried Frank publication by Mr. Nigro, Philip Richter, Nathaniel L. Asker, and Alyson L. Redman.

Activist shareholder campaigns continue to grow in number and prominence. One of the largest private equity deals of 2014—the $8.7 billion buy-out of PetSmart Inc.—came about following comments by a significant shareholder. A merger of the two leading office superstores, Staples and Office Depot, and the breakup of DuPont Co., each are being promoted by activist investors. These are but three examples of recent activist campaigns; with close to $200 billion in available funds, others are sure to follow. [1] The continued rise of shareholder activism serves as a useful reminder that targets and investors should be mindful of the scope of the investment-only exemption under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act. Whether and when particular conduct may disqualify a shareholder from the passive investment exemption is a highly fact-specific inquiry and has been the subject of several enforcement actions in recent years.


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