Ex-Securities and Exchange Commissioner Paul Atkins wants the agency to rework its shareholder proposal rule, including the process that the staff employs to determine when issuers can leave the proposals out of their proxy materials. Atkins pointed to the recent increase in shareholder proposals that are pressing companies to reveal their political spending even though the majority of shareholders oppose such resolutions. He spoke against special interest groups using these proposals to push their agendas.
Atkins made his comments during an interview with BNA. Referring to the no-action process that lets SEC staff figure out the major issues that end up on issuers’ proxies for shareholders to vote on, he said that this action was very subjective and doesn’t have much transparency, actual due process, or accountability.
Under the SEC’s 1934 Securities Exchange Act Rule 14a-8, its shareholder proposal rule, the procedures that eligible investors can have their proposals included in the proxy materials of a company are laid out. The rule also lets issuers leave out proposals in certain, limited situations. (Still, issuers have to tell the SEC Division of Corporation of Finance why the proposal is being left out) and the staff can then grant no-action relief.
Just a couple of years ago, the Commission was reviewing the US proxy voting system’s inner workings. On July 14, 2010, the regulator put out a concept release seeking public comment on the transparency, accuracy, and efficiency of the voting process. (Recommendations that the shareholder proposal process be modified have been making their way through the SEC on numerous occasions in the last three decades.)
Still, supporters of the shareholder proposal process stand by it, believing that it is a key communication channel between shareholders and corporations. Also, considering all the changes coming down under the JOBS Act and the Dodd-Frank Act, they don’t think that now is the time to tinker with it.
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