U.S. Chamber Joins Business Roundtable in Lawsuit Challenging Securities and Exchange Commission

Tuesday, September 28, 2010 - 8:00pm

Rule Imposes Unjustified Costs, Empowering Special Interest Shareholders and Disrupting Fragile Economic Recovery

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable today filed a  legal challenge to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) final rules requiring a corporation to include in its proxy materials director nominees put forward by a shareholder (or group of shareholders) who have owned three percent or more of company stock for at least three years. Eugene Scalia and Amy Goodman of Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher LLP will be counsel to the Chamber and Business Roundtable on this litigation.

“The SEC’s proxy access rule empowers unions and other special interests at the expense of the vast majority of retail shareholders,” said David Hirschmann, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber’s Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness. “This special interest-driven rule will give small groups of special interest activist investors significant leverage over a business’ activities. This will undermine a company’s ability to grow and create jobs.”

“As our country works to emerge from this recession, American companies need to be focused on creating jobs and encouraging innovation to put us back on a path to sustained economic growth,” said Larry Burton, executive director of Business Roundtable. “This unprecedented intrusion into areas historically reserved for the states would handcuff directors and boards, shut out the vast majority of retail shareholders and exacerbate the short-term focus that is now seen as one of the root causes of the financial crisis.”

In a petition for review filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the Chamber and Business Roundtable charge that the rule is arbitrary and capricious, violates the Administrative Procedure Act, and that the SEC failed to properly assess the rule’s effects on “efficiency, competition and capital formation” as required by law. In adopting the rule, the SEC:

  • Erred in appraising the costs that proxy access would impose on American corporations, shareholders, and workers at a time our economy can least afford it. For example, the Commission essentially disregarded numerous commenters who explained that the rule will be misused by special interest investors such as labor union pension funds and state pension funds;
  • Ignored evidence and studies highlighting the adverse consequences of proxy access, including that activist shareholders would use the rule as leverage to further their special interest agendas;
  • Claimed to be empowering shareholders, but actually restricted shareholders’ ability to prevent special interest shareholders from triggering costly election contests; and
  • Claimed to be effectuating state law rights, but gave short shrift to existing state laws regarding access to the proxy and related principles, including the law in Delaware and the Model Business Corporation Act, and created significant ambiguities regarding the application of federal and state law to the nomination and election process.

“While Congress may have authorized the SEC to consider a proxy rule, Congress never exempted the SEC from following the law when promulgating new regulations,” said Robin Conrad, executive vice president of the National Chamber Litigation Center, the Chamber’s public policy law firm. “The SEC failed to engage in evidence-based rulemaking, and we intend to hold the SEC to its statutory obligation to conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis.”

The Chamber and Business Roundtable are committed to effective, transparent corporate governance. Strong corporate governance creates an environment conducive for investors to provide capital. Traditionally, governance structures and mechanisms have been governed by state corporate law.

Since its inception three years ago, the Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness has led a bipartisan effort to modernize and strengthen the outmoded regulatory systems that have governed our capital markets. The CCMC is committed to working aggressively with the administration, Congress, and global leaders to implement reforms to strengthen the economy, restore investor confidence, and ensure well-functioning capital markets.

Business Roundtable is an association of chief executive officers of leading U.S. companies with nearly $6 trillion in annual revenues and more than 12 million employees. Member companies comprise nearly a third of the total value of the U.S. stock markets and pay more than 60 percent of all corporate income taxes paid to the federal government. Annually, they pay more than $167 billion in dividends to shareholders and the economy. Please visit us at www.brt.org, check us out on Facebook and LinkedIn, and follow us on Twitter.

Chamber v SEC proxy stay request (PDF)

Chamber v SEC proxy petition (PDF)

What others are saying about the proxy access rules. (PDF)

Proxy Access Legal Challenge: Issue Backgrounder (PDF)

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business federation representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions, as well as state and local chambers and industry associations.

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