Current Posts

September 17, 2014 | Ning Chiu

SEC Chair White has spoken about the SEC's interest in reforming the current disclosure regime, which we discuss here. Perhaps foreshadowing the possible benefits of change, the WSJ recently reported on Corp Fin’s role in prowling through securities filings, dubbed the “the world’s most impenetrable prose,” followed by a story on how an outfit that runs the SAT test graded the filings of six large companies for “readability.”  

In response to the SEC’s request for comments on its disclosure effectiveness project, the Society of Corporate Secretaries and Governance... Read More

September 15, 2014 | Ning Chiu

Rehearing en banc of the conflict minerals case is not warranted because there is no conflict with other court decisions, argues the National Association of Manufacturers, Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable (collectively referred to as “NAM”) in a joint response to the petitions for rehearing en banc submitted by the SEC and Amnesty International (which we previously discussed here.

The dispute between the parties centers on whether, in light of the recent American Meat Institute case, the statement that issuers were previously required to make regarding whether or not products are DRC conflict free is eligible for review under Zauderer, a Supreme Court precedent.  The American Meat Institute case overruled prior circuit precedent limiting Zauderer to disclosure aimed at preventing... Read More

September 11, 2014 | Ning Chiu

As we previously discussed here, in May, a shareholder challenged the validity of an amendment to Cheniere Energy’s 2011 incentive plan that was voted on at the company’s February 2013 meeting. In the complaint, the plaintiff questioned whether abstentions should have been counted as votes “against” the plan, based on the company’s bylaws. According to the plaintiff, treating abstentions as “no” votes would have meant that the plan was not approved by shareholders. 

Citing the litigation, Cheniere Energy postponed its annual meeting originally scheduled for June to September 11, 2004. It also decided to remove proposals to further amend the plan that had been scheduled for that meeting. 

The company has since filed a motion to stay or dismiss the plaintiff’s claim. The company argued that since a shareholder vote for... Read More

September 9, 2014 | Ning Chiu

For those who wondered what happened to the rule proposal that the SEC issued in January 2011 requiring that investment managers report their say-on-pay votes at least annually, the staff is working on drafting final rules for the Commission’s consideration “in the near term,” according to Chair White. 

This was one of many rules that Chair White discussed in her testimony before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs about the SEC's ongoing implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act. She stated that the Commission has focused on eight key areas from the Act: credit rating agencies; asset-backed securities; municipal advisors; asset management, including regulation of private fund advisers; over-the-counter derivatives; clearance and settlement; proprietary activities by financial institutions; and executive compensation.... Read More

September 8, 2014 | Ning Chiu

In the midst of the clamor for disclosure reform that questions whether the current regime requires too much information in public filings, the Council of Institutional Investors (CII) wants companies to provide additional detail about their board evaluation processes.  

In its report, "Best Disclosure: Board Evaluation," surveyed CII members said they value detailed disclosure of the board evaluation process when deciding on director elections. CII makes clear that investors do not expect information about the results of the actual evaluations, but believe that the process discussion “ an indication that a board is willing to think critically about its own performance on a regular basis and tackle any weaknesses.” 

The report acknowledges that it is not common to find “robust disclosure” of the board evaluation process in the... Read More

September 4, 2014 | Ning Chiu

The SEC staff recently disagreed with Procter & Gamble’s no-action letter, which sought to exclude a shareholder proposal on ordinary business grounds, although a similar proposal sent to Johnson & Johnson was allowed to be kept out of its proxy statement this past February.   

Both proposals requested reports to shareholders explaining the congruency between the companies’ stated “corporate values” and the company’s political contributions, with “justifications for…exceptions” for those contributions which may appear to be misaligned with the values. While the SEC staff did not explain their reasoning in the P&G decision, the different results seem to lie in the focus of the examples used to demonstrate the alleged... Read More

August 27, 2014 | Ning Chiu

Amnesty International filed a supplemental brief to its late May petition for rehearing of the conflict minerals case, based on the American Meat decision from late July, which we previously discussed here

Amnesty argues that the opinion in American Meat expressly overruled a portion of the conflict minerals decision, and made clear that the court in the conflict minerals litigation erred in failing to apply the First Amendment standard for review set forth in Zauderer. The court had declined to apply Zauderer in the conflict minerals dispute since the SEC had not claimed that the rule was related to the government interest of preventing consumer deception. Subsequently, the American Meat court expressly overruled the view that Zauderer is limited to disclosures based on “an... Read More

August 25, 2014 | Ning Chiu

Facebook is seeking to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the compensation paid to its non-executive directors, which we previously discussed here.

Although a board’s decision to grant compensation to its members generally falls outside the business judgment rule because board members are deemed personally interested in their compensation levels, if the board’s decision is approved by a majority of independent, disinterested and informed stockholders, then the business judgment rule presumption applies rather than the entire fairness standard. 

Facebook argues in its motion to dismiss that the director compensation at issue was approved by the necessary stockholder majority because the company’s CEO and chairman, Mark Zuckerberg, beneficially owns approximately 17% of the company, and 55% of the voting power, as a result of... Read More

August 21, 2014 | Ning Chiu

The NYTimes Dealbook recently focused on a Proxy Monitor study that found that 70% of shareholder proposals submitted by individuals to Fortune 250 companies in 2014 were sponsored by three people and their family members − John Chevedden, William Steiner and James McRitchie. Over the last nine years, the Cheveddens have filed 232 proposals, with about 19% receiving majority support, while the Steiners made 215 submissions, with 29% passing. According to the report, Evelyn Davis only submitted one proposal in 2014, and none in 2013. Although her success rate for passing proposals is around 1%, the Dealbook article discusses her newsletter that many companies felt compelled to buy and other perks she received. 

The focus on "corporate gadflies" is one... Read More

August 14, 2014 | Ning Chiu

ISS has launched a new Equity Plan Data Verification portal to better reflect the most up-to-date data for investors voting on equity plans. While this process is optional for issuers and does not affect whether they receive ISS recommendations, given that issuers frequently criticize the proxy advisory firms for having errors in the voting reports, this portal represents a unique opportunity to ensure those errors are minimized, especially in the complex area of equity plan proposals. Favorable proxy advisory firm recommendations can be crucial to the passage of those plans. 

This portal will be available to all U.S. companies with an equity plan proposal on the ballot after September 8, 2014. It does not apply unless a company has such a proposal on the upcoming meeting agenda. 

Companies must take action to have the ability to confirm the accuracy of the information before ISS... Read More