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SEC Adopts Amendments To Rules Governing Proxy Advisory Firms

On July 13, 2022, the SEC adopted amendments to the rules governing proxy voting advice, in essence undoing material provisions in the new rules that had been adopted in July 2020.  The newest rules were proposed in November 2021 but had effectively been in place since June 2021 when SEC Chair Gary Gensler issued a statement making it clear that the SEC would not be enforcing the 2020 amendments to certain rules governing proxy advisory firms or the SEC guidance on those new rules.

The final rules rescind two of the rules adopted in 2020 and specifically, the conditions to the availability of two exemptions from the proxy rules’ information and filing requirements on which proxy voting advice businesses may rely. Those conditions require that: (i) companies that are the subject of proxy voting advice have such advice made available to them in a timely manner; and (ii) clients of proxy voting advice businesses are provided with a means of becoming aware of any written responses by companies to proxy voting advice.  The final amendments also delete the 2020 changes made to the proxy rules’ liability provision.  The adopting release also rescinds guidance that the SEC issued in 2020 regarding the application of the then newly adopted rules.  The rest of the 2020 rule amendments remain in place.


In July 2020 the SEC adopted amendments to change the definition of “solicitation” in Exchange Act Rule 14a-1(l) to specifically include proxy advice subject to certain exceptions, provide additional examples for compliance with the anti-fraud provisions in Rule 14a-9, and amended Rule 14a-2(b) to specifically exempt proxy voting advice businesses from the filing and information requirements of the federal proxy rules.  On the same day, the SEC issued updated guidance on the new rules.  See HERE for a discussion on the new rules and related guidance.

Like all rules and guidance related to the proxy process, the amendments were controversial with views generally falling along partisan lines.  On June 1, 2021, Chair Gary Gensler issued a brief public statement, expressing his lack of support for the rules. On the same day, the SEC Division of Corporation Finance issued a public statement that it would not recommend enforcement action based on the 2020 Rule Amendments and guidance during the period in which the SEC is considering further regulatory action in this area (see HERE).

New 2022 Rule Amendments

Rule 14a-2(b)(9) – Exemptions from the Filing and Information Requirements

Subject to certain exemptions, a solicitation of a proxy generally requires the filing of a proxy statement with the SEC and the mailing of that statement to all shareholders.  Proxy advisory firms can rely on the filing and mailing exemption found in Rule 14a-2(b) if they comply with all aspects of that rule.  Rule 14a-2(b)(1) provides an exemption from the information and filing requirements for “[A]ny solicitation by or on behalf of any person who does not, at any time during such solicitation, seek directly or indirectly, either on its own or another’s behalf, the power to act as proxy for a security holder and does not furnish or otherwise request, or act on behalf of a person who furnishes or requests, a form of revocation, abstention, consent or authorization.”  The exemption in Rule 14a-2(b)(1) does not apply to affiliates, 5% or greater shareholders, officers or directors, or director nominees, nor does it apply where a person is soliciting in opposition to a merger, recapitalization, reorganization, asset sale or other extraordinary transaction or is an interested party to the transaction.

Rule 14a-2(b)(3) generally exempts voting advice furnished by an advisor to any other person the advisor has a business relationship with, such as broker-dealers, investment advisors and financial analysts.

The 2020 amendment added new Rule 14a-2(b)(9) providing that in order to rely on an exemption set forth in 14a-2(b)(1) or (b)(3), a proxy voting advice business would need to: (i) include disclosure of material conflicts of interest in their proxy voting advice; and (ii) have adopted and publicly disclosed written policies and procedures designed to (a) provide companies and certain other soliciting persons with the opportunity to review and provide feedback on the proxy voting advice before it is issued, with the length of the review period depending on the number of days between the filing of the definitive proxy statement and the shareholder meeting; and (b) provide proxy advice business clients with a mechanism to become aware of a company’s written response to the proxy voting advice provided by the proxy firm, in a timely manner.

The 2020 amendment also added two non-exclusive safe-harbors for compliance with the rule and certain exclusions such as where advice is based on an investor’s custom policies – that is, where a proxy advisor provides voting advice based on that investor’s customized policies and instructions. Other exclusions included providing proxy voting advice as to non-exempt solicitations regarding (i) mergers and acquisition transactions specified in Rule 145(a) of the Securities Act; or (ii) by any person or group of persons for the purpose of opposing a solicitation subject to Regulation 14A by any other person or group of persons (contested matters).

The July 2022 amendments rescind all aspects of Rule 14a-2(b)(9) except the requirement that a proxy voting advice business disclose material conflicts of interest.

Supplemental Guidance for Investment Advisors

On the same day as enacting the 2020 rules, the SEC Commissioners endorsed supplemental guidance for investment advisors in light of the new rules.  The guidance updated the prior guidance issued in August 2019 – see HERE.  The supplemental guidance was designed to assist investment advisers in assessing how to consider company responses to recommendations by proxy advisory firms that may become more readily available to investment advisers as a result of the 2020 amendments.

The supplemental guidance stated that an investment adviser should have policies and procedures to address circumstances where the investment adviser becomes aware that a company intends to file or has filed additional soliciting materials with the SEC, after the investment adviser has received the proxy advisory firm’s voting recommendation but before the submission deadline.  The supplemental guidance also addressed disclosure obligations and client consent when investment advisers use automated services for voting such as when they receive pre-populated ballots from a proxy advisory services firm.

The July 2022 amendments rescind this supplemental guidance in total and reaffirm the August 2019 guidance in its stead.

Rule 14a-9 – the Anti-Fraud Provisions

All solicitations, whether or not they are exempt from the federal proxy rules’ filing requirements, remain subject to Exchange Act Rule 14a-9, which prohibits any solicitation from containing any statement which, at the time and in the light of the circumstances under which it is made, is false or misleading with respect to any material fact.  The 2020 amendments modified Rule 14a-9 to include examples of when the failure to disclose certain information in the proxy voting advice could, depending upon the particular facts and circumstances, be considered misleading within the meaning of the rule.

Under the 2020 amendments, the types of information a proxy voting advice business may need to disclose included the methodology used to formulate the proxy voting advice, sources of information on which the advice is based, or material conflicts of interest that arise in connection with providing the advice, without which the proxy voting advice may be misleading.  Prior to 2020 the Rule contained four examples of information that may be misleading, including: (i) predictions as to specific future market values; (ii) information that impugns character, integrity or personal reputation or makes charges concerning improper, illegal or immoral conduct; (iii) failure to be clear as to who proxy materials are being solicited by; and (iv) claims made prior to a meeting as to the results of a solicitation.

The 2020 amendments added to these examples the information required to be disclosed under 14a2-(b), as modified in 2020, including the failure to disclose the proxy voting advice business’s methodology, sources of information and conflicts of interest.

The 2021 amendments delete these examples; however, the SEC states that proxy voting advisory businesses “may, depending on the facts and circumstances, be subject to liability under Rule 14a-9 for a materially misleading statement or omission of fact, including with regard to its methodology, sources of information or conflicts of interest.”

Provisions from the 2020 Rule Amendments that Remain in Place

Rule 14a-1(l) – Definition of “Solicit” and “Solicitation”

Exchange Act Rule 14(a) makes it unlawful for any person to “solicit” a proxy unless they follow the specific rules and procedures.  Prior to the 2020 amendment, Rule 14a-1(l), defined a solicitation to include, among other things, a “communication to security holders under circumstances reasonably calculated to result in the procurement, withholding or revocation of a proxy,” and includes communications by a person seeking to influence the voting of proxies by shareholders, regardless of whether the person himself/herself is seeking authorization to act as a proxy.  In August 2019 the SEC issued guidance confirming that proxy voting advice by a proxy advisory firm would fit within this definition of a solicitation, and the 2020 amendment codified such view.

Rule 14a-1(l) specifies the circumstances when a person who furnishes proxy voting advice will be deemed to be engaged in a solicitation subject to the proxy rules.  In particular, the definition of “solicit” or “solicitation” now includes “any proxy voting advice that makes a recommendation to a shareholder as to its vote, consent, or authorization on a specific matter for which shareholder approval is solicited, and that is furnished by a person who markets its expertise as a provider of such advice, separately from other forms of investment advice, and sells such advice for a fee.”

The SEC provides for certain exemptions to the definition of a “solicitation” including: (i) the furnishing of a form of proxy to a security holder upon the unsolicited request of such security holder as long as such request is not to a proxy advisory firm; (ii) the mailing out of proxies for shareholder proposals, providing shareholder lists or other company requirements under Rule 14a-7 related to shareholder proposals; (iii) the performance by any person of ministerial acts on behalf of a person soliciting a proxy; or (iv) a communication by a security holder, who does not otherwise engage in a proxy solicitation, stating how the security holder intends to vote and the reasons therefor.  This last exemption is only available, however, if the communication: (A) is made by means of speeches in public forums, press releases, published or broadcast opinions, statements, or advertisements appearing in a broadcast media, or newspaper, magazine or other bona fide publication disseminated on a regular basis, (B) is directed to persons to whom the security holder owes a fiduciary duty in connection with the voting of securities of a registrant held by the security holder (such as financial advisor), or (C) is made in response to unsolicited requests for additional information with respect to a prior communication under this section.

By maintaining a broad definition of a solicitation, the SEC can exempt certain communications, as it has in the definition, in Rule 14a-2(b), and through no-action relief, while preserving the application of the anti-fraud provisions.  In that regard, the rules specifically state that a proxy advisory firm does not fall within the carve-out in Rule 14a1(I) for “unsolicited” voting advice where the proxy advisory firm is hired by an investment advisor to provide advice.  Proxy advisory firms do much more than just answer client inquiries, but rather market themselves as having an expertise in researching and analyzing proxies for the purpose of making a voting determination.

The rule also specifically states that the terms “solicit” and “solicitation” do not include any proxy voting advice provided by a person who furnishes such advice only in response to an unprompted request.  For example, when a shareholder reaches out to their financial advisor or broker with questions related to proxies, the financial advisor or broker would be covered by the carve-out for unsolicited inquiries.  Further, a voting agent that does not provide voting advice, but rather exercises delegated voting authority to vote shares on behalf of its clients, would not be providing “voting advice” and therefore would not be encompassed within the definition of “solicitation.”

The SEC believes that by retaining this provision from the 2020 amendments together with the requirement to disclose material conflicts of interest, the proxy system will be adequately protected without the added burdens and expenses arguably imposed by the rest of the 14(a)-2(b)(9) conditions

The Author

Laura Anthony, Esq.

Founding Partner

Anthony, Linder & Cacomanolis

A Corporate and Securities Law Firm


Securities attorney Laura Anthony and her experienced legal team provide ongoing corporate counsel to small and mid-size private companies, public companies as well as private companies going public on the NasdaqNYSE American or over-the-counter market, such as the OTCQB and OTCQX. For more than two decades Anthony, Linder & Cacomanolis, PLLC has served clients providing fast, personalized, cutting-edge legal service.  The firm’s reputation and relationships provide invaluable resources to clients including introductions to investment bankers, broker-dealers, institutional investors and other strategic alliances. The firm’s focus includes, but is not limited to, compliance with the Securities Act of 1933 offer sale and registration requirements, including private placement transactions under Regulation D and Regulation S and PIPE Transactions, securities token offerings and initial coin offerings, Regulation A/A+ offerings, as well as registration statements on Forms S-1, S-3, S-8 and merger registrations on Form S-4; compliance with the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, including registration on Form 10, reporting on Forms 10-Q, 10-K and 8-K, and 14C Information and 14A Proxy Statements; all forms of going public transactions; mergers and acquisitions including both reverse mergers and forward mergers; applications to and compliance with the corporate governance requirements of securities exchanges including Nasdaq and NYSE American; general corporate; and general contract and business transactions. Ms. Anthony and her firm represent both target and acquiring companies in merger and acquisition transactions, including the preparation of transaction documents such as merger agreements, share exchange agreements, stock purchase agreements, asset purchase agreements and reorganization agreements. The ALC legal team assists Pubcos in complying with the requirements of federal and state securities laws and SROs such as FINRA for 15c2-11 applications, corporate name changes, reverse and forward splits and changes of domicile. Ms. Anthony is also the author of SecuritiesLawBlog.com, the small-cap and middle market’s top source for industry news, and the producer and host of LawCast.comCorporate Finance in Focus. In addition to many other major metropolitan areas, the firm currently represents clients in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, Atlanta, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Denver, Tampa, Detroit and Dallas.

Ms. Anthony is a member of various professional organizations including the Crowdfunding Professional Association (CfPA), Palm Beach County Bar Association, the Florida Bar Association, the American Bar Association and the ABA committees on Federal Securities Regulations and Private Equity and Venture Capital. She is a supporter of several community charities including the American Red Cross for Palm Beach and Martin Counties, Susan Komen Foundation, Opportunity, Inc., New Hope Charities, the Society of the Four Arts, the Norton Museum of Art, Palm Beach County Zoo Society, the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts and several others.

Ms. Anthony is an honors graduate from Florida State University College of Law and has been practicing law since 1993.

Contact Anthony, Linder & Cacomanolis, PLLC. Inquiries of a technical nature are always encouraged.

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Anthony, Linder & Cacomanolis, PLLC makes this general information available for educational purposes only. The information is general in nature and does not constitute legal advice. Furthermore, the use of this information, and the sending or receipt of this information, does not create or constitute an attorney-client relationship between us. Therefore, your communication with us via this information in any form will not be considered as privileged or confidential.

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