“The Die is Cast”: SEC Proposes to Regulate Proxy Advisors
Yesterday, the SEC issued two controversial rule proposals that, if adopted, would significantly modify the proxy disclosure & solicitation process. There’s a lot to cover, so I’m going to do these one at a time. First, the SEC announced a rule proposal that would impose disclosure & other obligations on proxy advisors. The proposed rules would:
– Amend Exchange Act Rule 14a-1(l), which defines the terms “solicit” and “solicitation,” to specify the circumstances when a person who furnishes proxy voting advice will be deemed to be engaged in a solicitation subject to the proxy rules.
– Revise Rule 14a-2(b) to condition certain exemptions relied upon by proxy advisors on their compliance with three new requirements. In order to avoid complying with the full range of rules applicable to proxy solicitations, proxy advisors would have to disclose material conflicts of interest in their proxy voting advice, provide the company with an opportunity to review and comment on their advice before it is issued; and, if requested by the company, include in their voting advice a hyperlink directing the recipient of the advice to a written statement that sets forth the company’s position on the advice.
– Modify Rule 14a-9 to include examples of when failing to disclose certain information in the proxy voting advice could be considered misleading within the meaning of the rule.
The SEC was sharply divided on this proposal & its companion – both of which were approved by a 3-2 vote. Commissioner Jackson issued a statement on his decision to dissent from the proposal, which he characterized as limiting the ability of investors to “hold corporate insiders accountable.” Fellow Democratic Commissioner Allison Herren Lee issued a statement in which she said that both proposals would “suppress the exercise of shareholder rights.”
In contrast, Republican Commissioner Eliad Roisman issued his own statement in support of the proposal, which he said would help fiduciaries “receive more accurate, transparent, and complete information when they make their voting decisions.”
When Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his legions in 49 BC, he knew that he was taking a fateful step and reportedly exclaimed “Alea iacta est!” – “The die is cast!” Maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but it sure feels like there’s an element of that sentiment in the SEC’s action. While Commissioner Clayton issued a statement in which he stressed that the proposal is just that – a proposal – it seems inevitable that the regulatory ground is about to shift in a significant way.
-John Jenkins, TheCorporateCounsel.net November 6, 2019
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