Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The value of shareholder proxy votes

Today I received a proxy vote solicitation. Since I own many different stock investments I routinely get these and put them almost immediately in the recycling. The proxy votes usually seem futile. Typically they only allow you to vote on a slate of board members and maybe one or two other things like compensation packages or increasing the number of shares or other equally uninspiring questions to vote on. This time I had the idea to take a look, expecting a similar slate of uninspiring propositions and a slate of old white guys in pin striped suits slated to be the next board of directors. This time I was pleasantly surprised to see their recommendation to vote against a measure which would restrict their ability to invest in companies which commit or engage in genocide or crimes against humanity.

Woah, am I glad I looked at this so that I can vote for this measure.

I would prefer that the proxy voting actually made a difference. Supposedly we shareholders are the owners of the company, but we have very little say over the conduct of the companies we own. As I said, the typical proxy vote gives very little room for valuable input. You can vote on board of directors members, but they all seem clones of one another so it seems unimportant which name is actually on the board or not. You can vote on other relatively meaningless proposals. You can't vote on important matters such as the products made by the company, the materials used, ecologically sensitive practices, the disposition of lobbying funds, the nonsensical status of corporations as persons, the award of spouse benefits for same sex domestic partners, etc, etc, etc.

Well maybe we could vote on important issues if only we knew how to get those issues on the ballot. But unlike government elections it is a complete mystery how one gets a measure onto the next proxy vote solicitation, and whether the company will abide by the measure if it passes.

Another question is how the heck do you get onto the list of candidates for board members? Is it completely controlled by a circle of cronies who only select future board members from the circle of cronies? Or is there a way to nominate yourself, and run an open campaign for election to the board?

Supposedly the U.S.A. and certain other modern countries are democratically ruled. Well, government has similar cronyism problems too. But the increasing power of corporations make even the most democratically minded governments powerless. Corporations are run nondemocratically. The employees of a corporation live within what's essentially a dictatorship ruled over by the CEO and management. The actions of corporations have huge impact that are only barely regulated by the government. This leaves the people, the citizens of the country, unable to have democratic influence over the behavior of the corporations.