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What's Up in San Francisco?

(The following post originally appeared on ONSecurities, a top Minnesota legal blog founded by Martin Rosenbaum to address securities, governance and compensation issues facing public companies.)

November 12, 2009

I've just finished three and a half very interesting days at the NASPP Annual Conference and the Proxy Disclosure Conference sponsored by in San Francisco. Aside from an unexpectedly big crowd and some great food, attendees encountered some interesting updates:

    Proxy Disclosure Rules. Shelley Parratt, Director of Corporation Finance of the SEC, addressed the group, and there were two main news items. First, she previewed the currently proposed amendments to the proxy disclosure rules. She didn't address when the amendments would be considered, but stated that the new rules "may well" be in place for the 2010 proxy season. The SEC staff still clearly wants to accomplish this goal. Since the rules probably won't be considered until early December, this will likely put proxy drafters and compensation committees in a bind.
    Second, apart from the new rules, Parratt discussed compliance with the proxy disclosure rules adopted in 2007 and indicated that the SEC staff will take a more assertive (aggressive?) posture in its comment process. The staff has observed that companies that have already responded to comments on these rules are doing a pretty good job of compliance, although they can always do better. On the other hand, companies that have not yet received the comments seem to be waiting to receive comments before complying with the staff's guidance. She indicated that companies should be more proactive in changing their practices before they get comments, because the SEC will be taking a "no more Mr. Nice Guy" approach. Instead of "futures comments" (amend your filings in the future to comply), the staff will now be requiring many companies to go back and amend their prior filings. The main areas to focus on: (1) make sure your CD&A contains real analysis of "how" and "why" compensation decisions were made, and (2) disclose the performance targets underlying incentive compensation, unless there is a really compelling case to support competitive harm.
    New Governance Reform Bill. There was some discussion of the financial reform bill released this week by Senator Christopher Dodd - the "Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2009". Buried in the 1,136 page bill, which would reform the financial regulatory system, are numerous governance reforms that would apply to all public companies. These are very similar to the provisions of the Schumer bill, described in the ON Securities Cheat Sheet. See this description of the Dodd bill provisions in the Corporate Counsel Blog. The Dodd bill is significant to governance reform, because it may give momentum to the provisions of the other reform bills, which can now be reconciled and carried forward as part of financial institution reform.
    A New Ball Game. I bumped into well known compensation attorney and blogger Mike Melbinger, but he was rushing out to the Fox News affiliate to give an interview. It's very entertaining - he talked about AIG CEO Robert Benmosche's statement that he may leave the company because of the government's limitations on executive pay. Melbinger likened the Treasury to a baseball owner. He said that if you want your team to be successful (i.e., if you want AIG to pay back the $180 billion in government aid), you pay whatever it takes to hire C.C. Sabathia, rather than hiring a journeyman pitcher for a low price and hoping for the best. Even Melbinger, however, admitted that if everyone at AIG is driving around in Lamborghinis, you might have a PR problem.


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