* Attempt to force Goldman to defend pay policies
* Goldman cites “technicalities” to explain move, group says
By Ross Kerber
BOSTON, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Goldman Sachs (GS.N) told an activist group that it will seek permission to bar a proposed proxy vote that urges detailed disclosure and defense of its pay practices.
The Nathan Cummings Foundation in New York, which owns a stake in the giant New York bank, was told by a Goldman executive on Friday it would seek a “no action” letter from the Securities and Exchange Commission that would allow it to omit the proposed pay review from its upcoming proxy.
Laura Shaffer, director of shareholder activities at the philanthropic group, said on Monday that Dane Holmes, Goldman’s head of investor relations, told her the bank would seek the letter for unspecified technical reasons.
Goldman Sachs did not respond to requests for comment.
At a time when Wall Street is under fire for its high compensation and the quick return of lavish bonuses following taxpayer bailouts, the move drew sharp words from the foundation and could add fuel to criticism of the company.
Goldman’s Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein is among the bank executives scheduled to testify to Congress on Wednesday about the origins of the financial crisis.
“They’re trying to push us off the proxies, and I can’t believe it,” said the foundation’s president, Lance Lindblom.
He said the move undercuts Goldman’s past claims that it has tried to be responsive to concerns about its compensation, such as requiring executives to donate to charity and paying top managers in stock rather than cash.
“It’s the biggest head-fake in history,” Lindblom said.
In its proposal, the foundation asks shareholders to request that Goldman’s compensation committee produce a report by October that includes an analysis comparing the pay of top executives to median wages at the company and an evaluation of whether the pay is excessive and should be modified.
Named after the Baltimore immigrant who created what became Sara Lee Corp SLE.N in the middle years of the 20th century, the Nathan Cummings Foundation says on its website that it awards grants to programs promoting diversity, cultural understanding and concern for the poor.
Reporting by Ross Kerber; Editing by Ros Krasny, Phil Berlowitz