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Commentary By James R. Copland

Proxy Monitor 2019: Social Activists More Active Than Ever This Proxy Season

Governance Corporate Governance, Shareholder Capitalism

Editor's note: To see the vote results from the 2019 proxy season and learn more, visit Proxy Monitor.

By the end of May, 199 of America’s largest 250 companies, by revenues, had held their annual meetings. Seventeen more will have met by the end of June. Proxy Monitor shows that a total of 231 shareholder proposals will have appeared on the proxy ballots of those 216 companies. Although the average company faced but one shareholder proposal, some of the largest and most recognizable companies received many—led by Amazon with twelve and Alphabet (Google) with eleven.

Consistent with a longstanding trend, a small group of investors dominate the shareholder proposal process; and in 2019, 45% of all proposals have been introduced by “social investing” funds, public-policy groups, and religious orders—institutional investors with an agenda other than shareholder wealth maximization.

Three individual “corporate gadflies” (John Chevedden, Kenneth Steiner, and James McRitchie)—the “Chevedden group”—and their family members have sponsored 39% of all shareholder proposals. Mr. Chevedden alone sponsored more than a quarter of all the shareholder proposals at America’s largest companies this year.

Pension funds affiliated with public employees or labor unions continue to be active on this front, introducing 13% of all shareholder proposals this year.

Individual investors other than those in the Chevedden group have sponsored just 3% of shareholder proposals this year. Institutional investors without a social, policy, or religious purpose or a tie to labor have sponsored none.

While much focus has been paid to “ESG” investing, “governance” issues have gotten significantly more shareholder support than environmental or social concerns. Of the 14 proposals to win majority shareholder support this year, all but two involved classic corporate-governance concerns. The two exceptions: a proposal by the Catholic-affiliated Mercy Investment Services asking Walgreens Boot Alliance to compile a report on reputational risk stemming from opioid sales; and a proposal by the social-investing fund Trillium Asset Management asking Travelers to produce a report on its workforce diversity.

Visit to see the 2019 Proxy Scorecard

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James R. Copland is a senior fellow and director of legal policy at the Manhattan Institute. Follow him on Twitter here.