US Republicans continue their assault on shareholder rights and ESG

The US House of Representatives last week voted on a series of proposals designed to dismantle key aspects of Dodd Frank reforms. After June’s vote to propose regulation of proxy advisors and rescind the conflict minerals rule, the latest intervention on watering down shareholder rights and ESG removes:

  • the SEC’s authority to enforce the CEO median pay ratio disclosure rules;
  • the ability for the SEC to mandate companies disclose material climate-change risks; and
  • the ability for SEC to give shareholders voting by proxy the ability to vote for a mix of of management and opposition board candidates on the same “univeral ballot card”. At present, only shareholders physically present at a meeting are allowed to vote for a mix of candidates from different slates. Shareholders voting by proxy must choose one full slate or another.

The proposals were put forward as “poison pill riders” to a financial-services agencies appropriations bill for the federal budget year beginning October 1. Although the bill was passed and sent to the Senate, the future of the most controversial aspects is uncertain. It is understood that due to the timing of the presidential elections, Republican leaders do not want to pass a budget bill that could lead to a presidential veto that they could not override. A previous vote to reduce SEC funding by $50 million was opposed by Senator John Boozman.

Representative Garrett

Rep Garrett

Representative Scott Garrett (Republican, New Jersey), the author of the universal ballot amendments has criticised universal ballots as a representing  activists and the “special interests,” of union and public pension funds. Garret believes that the SEC should focus its limited resources on addressing the low levels of participation retail investors in corporate elections. “The adoption of a universal proxy rule would only increase the likelihood of high-profile proxy fights at public companies, which would serve to distract employees and management at these companies from carrying out their core operations,” Garrett said before the vote on his amendment.

Garrett is seen a controversial politician in the US and has attracted criticism from within his own party for anti-gay comments. One of his major backers, the Swiss bank UBS is reported to be reconsidering its donations to Garrett following his remarks. He is, nevertheless, considered to be “one of Wall Street’s best friends in Congress“.

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