Results for: Nasdaq diversity
Hearing on board gender diversity statute—will the court issue a preliminary injunction? (Updated)
On October 19, a federal district court judge held a hearing on a motion for a preliminary injunction in Meland v. Weber, a case challenging SB 826, California’s board gender diversity statute, on the basis that it is unconstitutional under the equal protection provisions of the 14th Amendment. The judge had previously dismissed the case on the basis of lack of standing, but was reversed by the 9th Circuit. What did the hearing reveal? (This post has been updated to reflect additional information regarding the hearing. See “At the hearing” below.)
Paper debunks seven myths of ESG
As we anticipate new proposals from the SEC on human capital and climate disclosure, this recent paper from the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford, Seven Myths of ESG, seems to be especially timely. The trend to take ESG into account in decision-making by companies and investors, not to mention the focus on ESG issues by regulators and even associations like the Business Roundtable, is “pervasive,” say the authors. Still, ESG is subject to “considerable uncertainty.” In the paper, the authors set about debunking some of the most common and persistent myths about what ESG is, how it should be implemented and its impact on corporate outcomes, “many of which,” they contend, “are not supported by empirical evidence.” Their objective is to provide a better understanding of ESG so that companies, institutions and regulators can “take a more thoughtful approach to incorporating stakeholder objectives into the corporate planning process.” The authors’ seven myths are summarized below.
New report on California board gender diversity mandate
As required by SB 826, California’s board gender diversity law, the California Secretary of State has posted its March 2020 report on the status of compliance with the new law. The report combines information gathered in the July 2019 report (see this PubCo post) with data for the additional six-month period of July 1, 2019 through December 31, 2019. The report counts 625 publicly held corporations that identified principal executive offices in California in their 2019 10-Ks, but indicates that only 330 of these “impacted corporations” had filed a 2019 California Publicly Traded Corporate Disclosure Statement, which would reflect their compliance with the board gender diversity requirement. Of the 330 companies that had filed, 282 reported that they were in compliance with the board gender diversity mandate.
Former CFTC Chair Gary Gensler expected to be nominated as SEC Chair
Reuters has reported that former CFTC Chair Gary Gensler will be President-elect Biden’s choice for SEC Chair. According to the article, in light of his “reputation as a hard-nosed operator willing to stand up to powerful Wall Street interests”—notwithstanding his former life as an investment banker—the appointment is “likely to prompt concern” among some that he will promote “tougher regulation.” The NY Post attributed his nomination to the most recent Democratic wins in the Senate, which allowed selection of “the more progressive candidate. Only two weeks ago, people close to the Biden transition team had penciled in centrist Robert Jackson Jr….as the SEC frontrunner because he was seen as more likely to win confirmation by a GOP-controlled Senate.” Jackson is a former Democratic SEC Commissioner appointed in 2017. Gensler is an MIT professor and has been leading the Biden transition planning for financial industry oversight.
GAO finds lack of consistency in ESG disclosure—how will the SEC respond?
In 2018, in recognition of the increasing expectation of shareholders to see disclosure regarding material environmental, social and governance issues that affect financial performance and communities, Senator Mark Warner asked the GAO to prepare a report on public company disclosure regarding ESG. That report has now been issued. According to Warner, “[m]ost institutional investors find current company financial disclosures limited in their usefulness, and augment company disclosures through burdensome engagement with the company, purchasing third party compilation data, or initiating shareholder proposals. It is time for the SEC to establish a task force to establish a robust set of quantifiable and comparable ESG metrics that all public companies can adhere to.” Although SEC Chair Jay Clayton has acknowledged “the growing drumbeat for ESG reporting standards,” he has made clear his lack of enthusiasm for imposing a prescriptive sustainability disclosure requirement that goes beyond principles-based materiality. (See, e.g., this PubCo post and this PubCo post.) Will the SEC address the drumbeat?
SEC Chair testifies before House Committee on Financial Services—climate, human capital and cybersecurity disclosure proposals likely delayed
On Tuesday, SEC Chair Gary Gensler testified for over four hours (without a break!) before the thousands (it seemed) of members of the House Committee on Financial Services. His formal testimony covered a number of topics on the SEC’s agenda that Gensler (and others) have addressed numerous times in past: market structure and equity markets, predictive analytics, crypto, issuer disclosure, China, SPACs and Rule 10b5-1 plans and was remarkably similar to his formal testimony in September before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. (See, e.g., this PubCo post and this PubCo post.) If you followed any of the coverage of Gensler’s testimony before the Senate committee (see this PubCo post), there was a Groundhog-Day feel to much of the questioning, but the five-minute limitation on questioning (because there are thousands of House committee members) did not really offer much opportunity for in-depth conversation about anything.
California Secretary of State publishes “report” about SB 826, California’s new board gender diversity mandate
As reported on thecorporatecounsel.net blog, the California Secretary of State has published on its website two spreadsheets, dated July 1, 2019, which apparently together constitute its mandated “report” under SB 826, California’s new board gender diversity mandate. The first spreadsheet identifies 537 companies that the Secretary’s office views as subject to SB 826. The next spreadsheet identifies 184 companies that were apparently in compliance as of that date. According to the “methodology,” this data was based on information available for the period from January 1 to June 30, 2019 in California and SEC filings, as well as information from the NYSE, Nasdaq and miscellaneous other online resources. An updated report will be published on March 1, 2020. My own extremely brief spotcheck, however, revealed that these lists are not exactly, um, accurate. (But see this update.)
California Secretary of State publishes “report” about SB 826, California’s new board gender diversity mandate—UPDATED
This post updates an earlier post on this topic to reflect information from a conversation with a knowledgeable representative of the California Secretary of State’s office. He was able to provide some insight about their process and clarify why some apparent inconsistencies were not really inconsistent.
As reported on thecorporatecounsel.net blog, the California Secretary of State has published on its website two spreadsheets, dated July 1, 2019, which apparently together constitute its mandated “report” under SB 826, California’s new board gender diversity mandate. The first spreadsheet identifies 537 companies that the Secretary’s office views as subject to SB 826. The next spreadsheet identifies 184 companies that were apparently in compliance with the board gender diversity mandate as of that date. According to the “methodology,” this data was based on information available for the review period from January 1 to June 30, 2019 in California and SEC filings, as well as information from the NYSE, Nasdaq and miscellaneous other online resources. An updated report will be published on March 1, 2020.
SEC officials preview developments regarding shareholder proposals and proxy advisors
As noted in thecorporatecounsel.net blog, last week, the Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce held an event discussing corporate governance and possible reforms. Both SEC Chair Jay Clayton and Corp Fin Director Bill Hinman were interviewed on stage and previewed a number of potentially important developments regarding, among other topics, proxy advisory firms and shareholder proposals.
Faux board gatekeepers: are independent board leaders just window dressing?
Are corporate boards awash in faux gatekeepers? This article, Board Gatekeepers, from a law professor at the University of Wisconsin, begins with a catalogue of infamous board failures to act as effective monitors of company conduct—including, in one case, a nascent scandal that continued for 11 years and another the subject of a successful Caremark claim. As framed by the author, the board plays a critical role, serving on behalf of the shareholders—and now perhaps also other stakeholders—to “ensure that the executive team is acting in the company’s best long-term interests,” in particular, “to ‘set up guardrails for the CEO’—that is, protect shareholders (and stakeholders) from corporate malfeasance.” Given the “structural power” that CEOs typically hold in the boardroom—such as through control over information and renominations—courts, regulators and investors often look to independent directors to act as a check on that power. Investors and regulators have also sought to address this power imbalance within the boardroom by introducing two key independent leadership roles—an independent board chair and a lead independent director. One or both of these “board gatekeepers” are now regular fixtures on boards, intended to add a “second layer of protection to the independence of the board” and signal and ensure “the existence of proper monitoring of management by the board.” The proliferation of these board gatekeepers, the author contends, “should have cemented board independence in what one can term its functional form: the ability to serve the crucial gatekeeping role that has been demanded of it.” But the inventory of recent scandals calls that conclusion into question. Are board gatekeepers really just window dressing?
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