On February 22, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that it was amending its proxy rules to improve the "notice and access" model for furnishing proxy materials to shareholders. Under the model, issuers are permitted to post their proxy materials on the internet and send shareholders a "Notice of Internet Availability of Proxy Materials" (a Notice), directing shareholders to the website where the proxy materials may be found, in lieu of delivering a full set of proxy materials in paper accompanied by the above Notice. While the notice and access model, adopted in 2007, was intended to promote the use of the internet as a cost-efficient and reliable means of making proxy materials available to shareholders, the SEC has found lower shareholder response rates to proxy solicitations when the notice-only option is employed.
The SEC attributes the lower response rate in cases where the notice-only option is used to confusion among investors regarding the operation of the notice and access model. Thus, issuers and other soliciting persons will be provided additional flexibility under the amendments with respect to the format and content of the Notice, including being able to provide additional materials explaining the e-proxy rules, rather than being restricted to inclusion of the boilerplate-type language currently set out by the rules. Changes are also being made with respect to the time by which a soliciting person other than an issuer must send its Notice to shareholders. The effective date of the amendments, first proposed in October 2009, is March 29, 2010.
In addition to the introducing the above amendments, the SEC also published an Alert describing changes that went into effect in January 2010 eliminating discretionary voting by brokers in the election of directors and the effects of these changes on proxy voting. The SEC also launched a new website providing investors with general information respecting, among other things, proxy voting and e-proxy rules.