SEC Adopts The Use Of Universal Proxy Cards
On November 17, 2021, the SEC adopted final rules requiring parties in a contested election to use universal proxy cards that include all director nominees presented for election at a shareholder meeting. The original rules were proposed on October 16, 2016 (see HERE) with no activity until April, 2021, when the SEC re-opened a comment period (see HERE). The rule adoption comes with a flurry of rule amendments, proposals and guidance related to the proxy process, some of which reverses recent rules on the same subject.
The final rules will require dissident shareholders and registrants to provide shareholders with a proxy card that includes the names of all registrant and dissident nominees. The rules will apply to all non-exempt solicitations for contested elections other than those involving registered investment companies and business development companies. The rules will require registrants and dissidents to provide each other with notice of the names of their nominees, establish a filing deadline and
SEC Re-Opens Comments On The Use Of Universal Proxy Cards
On April 16, 2021, the SEC voted to reopen the comment period on the proposed rules for the use of Universal proxy cards in all non-exempt solicitations for contested director elections. The original rules were proposed on October 16, 2016 (see HERE) with no activity since. However, it is not surprising that the comment period re-opened, and it is not as a result of the new administration. The SEC’s Spring and Fall 2020 semi-annual regulatory agendas and plans for rulemaking both included universal proxies as action items in the final rule stage. Prior to that, the topic had sat in the long-term action category for years.
In light of the several years since the original proposing release, change in corporate governance environment, proliferation of virtual shareholder meetings, and rule amendments related to proxy advisory firms (see HERE) and shareholder proposals in the proxy process (see HERE), the SEC believed it prudent to re-open a public comment period.
SEC Amendments To Rules Governing Proxy Advisory Firms
In a year of numerous regulatory amendments and proposals, Covid, newsworthy capital markets events, and endless related topics, and with only one blog a week, this one is a little behind, but with proxy season looming, it is timely nonetheless. In July 2020, the SEC adopted controversial final amendments to the rules governing proxy advisory firms. The proposed rules were published in November 2019 (see HERE). The final rules modified the proposed rules quite a bit to add more flexibility for proxy advisory businesses in complying with the underlying objectives of the rules.
The final rules, together with the amendments to Rule 14a-8 governing shareholder proposals in the proxy process, which were adopted in September 2020 (see HERE), will see a change in the landscape of this year’s proxy season for the first time in decades. However, certain aspects of the new rules are not required to be complied with until December 1, 2021.
The SEC has
SEC Issues Guidance On Proxy Advisory Firms
On August 29, 2019, the SEC issued anticipated guidance related to the application of the proxy rules to proxy advisory firms. Market participants have been very vocal over the years regarding the need for SEC intervention and guidance to rein in the astonishing power proxy advisor firms have over shareholder votes, and therefore public companies in general. The new SEC interpretation clarifies that advice provided by proxy advisory firms generally constitutes a “solicitation” under the proxy rules including the necessity to comply with such rules and the related anti-fraud provisions. On the same day, the SEC issued guidance on the proxy voting responsibilities of investment advisors, including when they use proxy advisory firms. This blog focuses on the guidance directly related to proxy advisory firms.
The SEC has been considering the role of proxy advisors for years. In 2010 it issued a concept release seeking public comment on the role and legal status of proxy advisory firms within the
The SEC Has Proposed The Use Of Universal Proxy Cards
The SEC has seen a huge exodus of key officials and employees since the recent change in administration, and the ultimate effect of these changes on pending or proposed rule making remains to be seen. However, some proposed rules, whether published or still in drafting process, will remain largely unaffected by the political changes. This could be one of them. In particular, on October 16, 2016, the SEC proposed amendments to the federal proxy rules to require the use of universal proxy cards in connection with contested elections of directors. The proposed card would include the names of both the company and opposed nominees. The SEC also proposed amendments to the rules related to the disclosure of voting options and standards for the election of directors.
Currently where there is a contested election of directors, shareholders likely receive two separate and competing proxy cards from the company and the opposition. Each card generally only contains the directors supported by the