August 30, 2010
Authored by: Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner
On August 25, 2010, the Securities and Exchange Commission voted to adopt new rules that will require companies to include in their proxy materials nominations for election as directors submitted by eligible shareholders, subject to certain conditions. The proposal was adopted by a divided 3-2 vote at an SEC open meeting. Commissioners Casey and Paredes dissented, viewing the rules as intruding on substantive corporate affairs traditionally regulated by state law.
The new rules will apply to all companies subject to SEC proxy rules, including investment companies and controlled companies, except:
- Companies subject to such rules solely due to debt registered under Section 12 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934; and
- Where state or foreign law or governing documents prohibit shareholders from nominating a candidate for director.
Foreign private issuers are not covered, as they are exempt from SEC proxy rules.
The new rules will be effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, with shareholder access permitted no earlier than 150 days and no later than 120 days prior to the anniversary date of the mailing of prior year’s proxy materials. The rules will be available if the window remains open after their effective date. Accordingly, if the new rules were to become effective on November 1, 2010, they would apply to companies that mailed their 2010 proxy statements after March 1.
Effectiveness of the new rules will be delayed for three years for smaller reporting companies, to allow the SEC time to monitor implementation and make adjustments, if desired.
Eligible shareholders can require a company to include one or more nominees in the company’s proxy materials, unless applicable laws or governing documents prohibit nominations by shareholders. Companies will only be required to include up to the greater of (i) 25% of the company’s directors or (ii) one nominee. The rule sets priorities in case of multiple nominations.
To be eligible, the nominating shareholder or group must, among other requirements, (i) own at least 3% of the total voting power (which may be aggregated among shareholders), (ii) have held such securities for at least three years, and continue to hold them through the shareholder meeting, (iii) not have intent to change control of the company or to gain more board seats than permitted by the rule, and (iv) not have any agreement with the company regarding the nomination.