US SEC official wants proxy access addressed in 2009
WASHINGTON, March 2 |
WASHINGTON, March 2 (Reuters) - The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission should act this year to give shareholders another way to nominate corporate board members, an SEC commissioner said on Monday.
Because the corporate proxy document is tightly controlled by management, shareholders currently can put forward their own director nominations only after waging a costly proxy battle.
"I would like the commission to act with respect to proxy access as soon as it can," said Elisse Walter, one of the five SEC commissioners who makes decision on federal securities rules. "I do think access should be provided."
Walter spoke to reporters on the sidelines of a banking conference in Washington.
The issue of proxy access has been before the SEC for years. Business groups oppose giving shareholders easier access, saying it would serve activists who do not have the company's best interests at heart.
In 2007, the SEC considered giving shareholders a way to nominate corporate directors if they owned at least 5 percent of a company's stock and if other conditions were met. But ultimately, the Republican majority of SEC commissioners voted to restrict shareholder access to the corporate board, angering shareholder activists, labor groups and some Democratic lawmakers.
Walter said the 5 percent threshold was too high for large companies. That view is shared by fellow Democratic SEC Commissioner, Luis Aguilar, who has said that the market capitalization of big companies means only the wealthiest investors could meet a 5 percent threshold.
When asked whether the SEC would act on proxy access this year, Walter said: "I hope so and I think so."
The SEC's new chairman, Mary Schapiro, has told Congress that the United States needs to follow the lead of other large markets that allow investors or shareholders of some size access to the corporate proxy. (Reporting by Rachelle Younglai; editing by Carol Bishopric)
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