Glass Lewis recently posted its comprehensive 2020 voting guidelines, which are summarized on the first page of the 2020 voting guidelines as well as on the Glass Lewis blog. Among other things, the 2020 voting guidelines update Glass Lewis’ voting guidance regarding excluded shareholder proposals. The updates are in response to the September 2019 guidance by the Staff of the Division of Corporation Finance (the Staff) regarding potential oral rather than written responses to 14a-8 no-action letter requests, as further outlined in recent our blog post.

As a general matter, Glass Lewis believes companies should only exclude a shareholder proposal when the Staff has explicitly concurred with a company’s argument for the exclusion of such shareholder proposal.

Staff Declines to Articulate a View on the Exclusion of a Shareholder Proposal

In instances where the Staff has declined to provide a view on whether the shareholder proposal is ripe for exclusion, Glass Lewis believes such a shareholder proposal should be included in the company’s proxy statement. In the event a company excludes such a shareholder proposal from its proxy statement, Glass Lewis will likely recommend that shareholders vote against the members of the company’s governance committee.


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On November 5, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in a 3-2 decision voted to propose amendments to rules governing shareholder proposals in companies’ proxy statements.  These proposed amendments – which seek to revise Rule 14a-8’s eligibility requirements, one-proposal limit, and resubmission thresholds – follow on the heels of recent guidance issued by the Staff of the Division of Corporation Finance related to the no-action letter process for shareholder proposals.

The press release announcing the proposed changes noted that the changes are part of the SEC’s ongoing focus on improving proxy access and the ability of shareholders to exercise their rights to vote. SEC Chairman Jay Clayton commented in the release that the proposed changes are designed to “facilitate constructive engagement by long-term shareholders in a manner that would benefit all shareholders and our public capital markets.”  Not without controversy though, the rule revisions are receiving criticism from shareholder advocacy groups, while business-minded groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have come out in support of the proposed changes.

Eligibility Requirements for Shareholders

The current eligibility requirements require that a shareholder proponent hold at least $2,000 or 1% of a company’s securities for at least a year to be eligible to submit a proposal.  The proposed revisions, eliminate the 1% threshold and replace the $2,000 threshold with the following three alternatives:


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Register for the Corporate & Securities Counsel Public Company Forum on December 12Bass, Berry & Sims invites you to join us for our inaugural Corporate & Securities Counsel Public Company Forum on Thursday, December 12.

This half-day program will feature timely and practical guidance on the latest developments in corporate and securities matters impacting public company in-house counsel.

Panel discussion topics will include:

  • Upcoming proxy season
  • Financial

It’s not too often we see Dick Clark and Ryan Seacrest mentioned in SEC comments, so this recent SEC comment letter issued to Planet Fitness caught our attention.  The Staff’s letter to Planet Fitness indicates that it performed a full review on the company’s Annual Report on Form 10-K, which included its definitive proxy statement incorporated by reference.

(You can tell it was a full review (legal and accounting) because the first sentence of the letter says, “We have reviewed your filing and have the following comments.”  In contrast, a limited review (or monitor) would have said something like “We have limited our review of your filing to the financial statements and related disclosures and have the following comments.”)


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Advance Notice Bylaw Provisions

A recent Delaware case, Saba Capital Master Fund, Ltd. v. Blackrock Credit Allocation Income Trust, highlights the importance of advance notice bylaws and the careful application of the terms of such bylaws by public companies who may be subject to activist campaigns.

As backdrop, following Delaware cases in 2008 (Jana Master Fund Ltd. vs. CNET Networks, Inc. and Levitt Corp. vs. Office Depot, Inc.) which interpreted ambiguous advance notice bylaw provisions in favor of insurgent shareholders attempting to nominate their own slate of director nominees, a large number of public companies (particularly large-cap companies and public companies incorporated in Delaware) amended their advance notice bylaw provisions to eliminate perceived vulnerabilities in their advance notice bylaws and expand the information required to be provided by shareholder proponents (known as second generation advance notice bylaw provisions).

While the focus on advance notice bylaw provisions (including the law firm commentary on this subject) has waned over the last decade, advance notice bylaws remain an important aspect of a public company’s preparedness for shareholder activism.


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As it is proxy season for calendar year companies, many of which are filing preliminary proxy statements that are subject to screening by the SEC Staff, I thought it might be helpful to publish answers to a few common questions about this process.

  • Is preliminary proxy screening different from other filings?

    Yes, in my experience the screening process for preliminary proxies is a little different than the process for a review of registered transactions. For registration statements, the Staff will call you at some point with a screening decision because in most cases they will need to take the filing effective, which requires more interaction between you and the Staff (i.e., acceleration request, etc.)   In comparison, if you file a preliminary proxy and you have not heard from the Staff within 10 calendar days from the date of your filing, you are free to file the definitive proxy, print and mail at that point—you don’t have to call the Staff to confirm that they are not going to review the filing.


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I recently provided insight for an article published in Compliance Week on the SEC’s pay ratio rule, which will require companies to disclose for the first time in their 2018 proxy statements the ratio between the median annual total compensation of all employees and the annual total compensation of its CEO. While the rule has brought some opposition, companies should still keep an eye out for developments in Washington and the SEC, but should not have unrealistic expectations. As I point out in the article, “given all the dynamics and the make-up of the Commission still evolving, companies should proceed with things the way they are now, with the rule in effect.” While there may be possibilities for some type of alleviation, companies should not rely on that to avoid delaying any adjustments needed to be made in preparation.

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ISS and Glass Lewis recently updated their proxy voting guidelines in advance of the 2017 proxy season. The updates to the ISS guidelines will be effective for meetings beginning in February 1, 2017, and the updates to the Glass Lewis guidelines will be effective for meetings beginning in January 1, 2017.

Unlike in certain past years, the revisions to the proxy voting guidelines of ISS and Glass Lewis will not significantly impact the public company corporate governance landscape or impact most public companies.  The changes made to the ISS guidelines include:

  • tightening the overboarding policy of ISS (by lowering the number of public company board positions it considers acceptable for non-CEO directors from six to five),
  • certain technical revisions to ISS guidelines with respect to proposals to amend or approve equity-based compensation plans, and
  • updating the policies of ISS with respect to proposals to address non-employee director compensation.


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Recently, a shareholder was the first to attempt to use proxy access bylaws to nominate a director. The shareholder was GAMCO Asset Management, and the company involved was National Fuel Gas Company (NFG).

NFG amended its bylaws in March 2016 to include a proxy access bylaw and its terms are pretty typical:  the bylaws provide that a shareholder, or a group of up to 20 shareholders, owning 3% or more of the Company’s outstanding Common Stock continuously for at least three years may nominate and include in the company’s proxy materials directors constituting up to 20% of the board, provided that the shareholders(s) and the nominee(s) satisfy the bylaw requirements. Here is NFG’s proxy access bylaw.


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I authored an article published by Law360 on the growing trend in support for proxy access among shareholders. In the article, I weigh the pros and cons of adopting proxy access for a public company and concludes “on balance, we believe that many public companies that have not yet adopted proxy access or received a