Commentators have for years lamented the undue influence of proxy advisory firms in corporate elections. James R. Copland of the Manhattan Institute has observed that an ISS recommendation in favor of a given shareholder proposal increases the approval vote by, on average, fifteen percentage points. In other words, as Copland puts it, “At least when it comes to shareholder proposals, a small, thinly funded outfit with 600 employees in Rockville, Maryland, is acting like an owner of fifteen percent of the total stock market.” In some instances, ISS’s influence can be even greater. In 2014, for example, shareholder proposals related to social and political issues received average support of 29% with ISS’s support, and only 5% if ISS recommended against. That is, ISS directly influenced nearly a quarter of the votes cast on these matters. Because the SEC’s rules for resubmission of a failed proposal by a shareholder in the next year’s proxy statement require that the proposal have received up to 10% of the vote (depending on how many years it has been submitted), the significant voting impact of an ISS recommendation can empower a proponent to resubmit a proposal year after year, imposing costs on the company and creating waste and negative publicity to the detriment of the company and its shareholders.
The problem of waste is exacerbated by the fact that ISS’s voting recommendations, on topics from compensation to social issues, have been dramatically out of line with voting results. One example is cumulative voting: ISS has supported 96% of proposals to adopt cumulative voting; however, out of 107 such proposals at Fortune 200 companies between 2006-2012, only one received majority support. As Copland notes, “The significant influence of ISS on corporate proxy voting—along with the large, systemic gap between its preferences and those observed in shareholders’ actual votes—raises questions about whether shareholder voting is working effectively to improve share value.”
Go read the whole thing, please.