August 17, 2020

SEC Calendars Open Meeting: Shareholder Proposals on the Agenda

The SEC sure isn’t shying away from controversial topics this summer. Less than a month after adopting a somewhat watered-down version of its proposed proxy advisor regulations, the SEC has calendared an open meeting for next month to consider amendments to the shareholder proposal rules. Here’s an excerpt from the Sunshine Act Notice:

The Commission will consider whether to modernize and enhance the efficiency of the shareholder-proposal process for the benefit of all shareholders by adopting amendments to certain procedural requirements for the submission of shareholder proposals and the provision relating to resubmitted proposals under Rule 14a-8. The amendments being considered seek to modernize the system for the first time in over 35 years and reflect many years of engagement by Commission staff with investors, issuers and other market participants.

The SEC issued proposed rules last November that would increase the ownership thresholds for submission of proposals for inclusion in a company’s proxy statement & substantially raise the bar in terms of the favorable vote required to allow shareholders to resubmit proposals in subsequent years. Other proposed changes to Rule 14a-8(b) would subject shareholders using representatives to enhanced documentation requirements with respect to the authority of those agents, and require shareholder-proponents to express a willingness to meet with the company and provide contact & availability information.

The proposals have produced an avalanche of comments – both real and, apparently, of the “Astroturf” variety. For example, the proposal’s comments page discloses that the SEC received over 5,000 identical form comment letters opposing the proposal, but that it has also “received messages from certain of the email addresses that sent this comment letter indicating that the owner of the email address did not submit a comment letter.”

The meeting is scheduled for September 16th, which means that if rules are adopted, we’ll be all over them at our upcoming “Proxy Disclosure” & “Executive Pay” Conferences – which will be held entirely virtually over three days – September 21 – 23. We’ve offered a Live Nationwide Video Webcast for our conferences for years – one of the only events to do so – and we’re excited to build on that platform and make your digital experience better than ever. Act now to get the best price – here’s the registration information.

Proxy Advisor Regulation: ISS’s Lawsuit Against the SEC Marches On

The SEC’s new rules regulating proxy advisors may be a weaker broth than what was originally proposed, but ISS is still not happy about being on the receiving end of the proxy rules. Last year, ISS sued the SEC over its efforts to regulate the proxy advisory industry.  The parties agreed to stay the proceedings pending the SEC’s action on its rule proposals, but now that those are in place, ISS says it’s “game on!” Here’s an excerpt from a statement from ISS’s CEO that was issued last week:

While last month’s rulemaking provides for certain exemptions to aspects of the SEC’s solicitation rules, we remain concerned that the rule will be used or interpreted in a way that could hamper our ability to continue to deliver to clients the timely and independent advice that they rely on to help make decisions with regard to the governance of their portfolio companies. We have today informed the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and the Commission of our intent to resume our lawsuit for many of the same core reasons we outlined in our October 31 complaint, as well additional concerns that we will articulate in the weeks ahead.

Over on her Twitter feed, Prof. Ann Lipton flagged a recent court filing indicating that it looks like ISS is going to amend its complaint – which originally focused on the guidance the SEC issued last August – to tackle the new rules directly. Check out the whole thread.

“Mr. Bad Example”: A Barry Minkow Docuseries?

When it comes to securities fraud, before there was Bernie Madoff, there was Barry Minkow. Then again, after there was Bernie Madoff, there was still Barry Minkow. Whether he’s scamming investors in the ZZZZ Best fraud, using his post-conviction “fraud investigation” business to faciliate his own insider trading, or fleecing the congregation of the San Diego church for which he improbably served as pastor, the guy positively sparkles with larceny. Now, this article from “Deadline” says that somebody is trying to put together a documentary series on Minkow.

I wish them better luck than the folks who got into bed with Minkow several years ago to make a movie about his life. As the article recounts, that project ran into some problems:

His life story was turned into the movie Con-Man, which he starred in alongside James Caan and Mark Hamill, but, as production was finishing, Minkow was charged with insider trading, having secretly used his Institute to short the stocks of the businesses he was investigating. While in jail, he also admits to defrauding his own church to help pay for his film.

Yeah, so that happened – and the movie was apparently horrible too. I don’t know what they plan to call the documentary, but as a big fan of the late, great Warren Zevon, may I suggest “Mr. Bad Example”?

John Jenkins