Social networking meets governance
US investors angered by the meltdown in the US financial markets have a new resource to campaign for better governance. ShareOwners.org is a social networking site based on Ning, the community web tool said to have played a central role in the success of President Obama’s election campaign.
ShareOwners has some big names behind its campaign including Rich Ferlauto, director of corproate governance at AFSCME, John Wilcox of Sodali and governance author Nell Minnow. Initial funding for the site is coming from the Lens Foundation for Corporate Governance and a court settlement.
According to the group’s mission statement, ShareOwners is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organisation aimed at educating and organising US investors to support financial market reforms. It’s first objective is to engage US investors and encourage them to send their comments in support of the group’s agenda directly to Congress. Over the longer term, the group has four broad objectives:
- stronger regulation in form of a “beefed up SEC”;
- increased accountability of boards and CEOs;
- improved financial transparency; and
- protection of shareholders rights
Commenting on the launch of the site, Chairman Ferlauto said: “The severe losses suffered by tens of millions of Americans in their 401(k)s, mutual funds, traditional pension plans and other investments all point to the need for a new emphasis on shareowner rights and meaningful regulation. Our goal is to level the playing field by giving a powerful new voice to the people who comprise the ‘silent majority’ in the investment world.”
One of the group’s campaigns is to lobby the SEC to improve the integrity of proxy voting practices at US companies by ensuring that voting instructions entered on Broadridge’s proxy vote platform accurately reflect shareholder’s wishes. At present, any ballot fields left blank are automatically changed in favour of the board instead of being treated as abstentions. James McRitchie, the California-based publisher of CorpGov.net submitted proposals to the SEC to change Rule 14a-4(b)(1) which regulates proxy voting practices. His proposal was originally filed in mid-May but is still open for comment.
To mark the launch of the site, ShareOwners have released the details of a survey of 1,256 US investors conducted by Opinion Research Corporation. The survey found that 79% of US investors wanted to see “strong action taken to correct the problems that exist today” in the financial markets. Full details of the results can be found on the site (see Links below).