Congress to rescue public companies from proxy advisory firms?Who says Congress isn’t popular?  Well, Congress may become much more popular with public company executives if Congressman Patrick McHenry (R-NC) can make good on his recent promise to challenge the power of proxy advisory firms if the SEC doesn’t act.  In a recent keynote speech at an American Enterprise Institute conference on the role of proxy advisory firms in corporate governance, Rep. McHenry stated that proxy advisory firms are a significant issue on Capitol Hill.

As I have blogged about before, there are some real questions as to whether proxy advisory firms actually serve investors’ interests.  While ISS and Glass Lewis are entitled to create a business model based on providing services to institutional investors, there has been either a market or regulatory failure that has forced public companies to consider corporate governance policies promulgated by two unregulated proxy advisory firms before making business decisions.  Public companies should be making decisions based on what makes sense for their company and their shareholders and not based on trying to meet arbitrary policies of ISS or Glass Lewis (policies that seem to be continuously tweaked to keep the proxy advisory firms services relevant).  To be fair, ISS and Glass Lewis claim that their policies aren’t arbitrary at all, but rather their policies reflect their clients’ views.  Of course, for that to be the case, all of their institutional investor clients would need to have a monolithic view toward corporate governance.

Because institutional investors may own hundreds or even thousands of positions in public companies, institutional investors do not have the ability or the resources to research all of the issues facing each of those holdings.  That is where ISS and Glass Lewis step in to provide guidance to these institutional investors.  While some institutional investors have robust voting policies and attempt to make educated and informed voting decisions, Continue Reading Congress to the rescue?: Congressman hints at legislation to rein in proxy advisory firms

Proxy advisory firms' influence over proxy votingAs we say “goodbye” to 2012 we say “hello” to another proxy season full of angst caused by the self-appointed czars of corporate governance, the proxy advisory firms.  Although ISS and Glass Lewis have been making voting recommendations for more than a decade, over the past two years their power over voting outcomes has increased.  When the Dodd-Frank Act was enacted in 2010 Congress was very clear that the Say-on-Pay votes were merely advisory and that directors would not be subjected to increased liability over a company’s executive compensation practice; however, the unintended consequence of Dodd-Frank was to strengthen the unregulated proxy advisory firm industry by allowing these firms to be the near-final arbiters of whether executive compensation should be approved by shareholders.  Failure to comply with the arbitrary guidelines of ISS or the often unknowable guidelines of Glass Lewis can cause a company the potential embarrassment of a “failed” Say-on-Pay vote regardless of whether the independent directors at the company, who painstakingly analyzed various metrics in deciding what to pay the executive officers, determined the compensation to be in the best interests of the company and its shareholders.  In fact, Matteo Tonello of the Conference Board suggests there is substantial evidence demonstrating that the proxy advisory firms have significant influence over the design of executive compensation programs, but no evidence that they have contributed at all to improved governance quality or increased shareholder value.

The SEC clairvoyantly expected a growing conflict between issuers and the proxy advisory firms when it Continue Reading Are investors’ interests served by proxy advisory firms?