Investors are set to shake things up at annual shareholder meetings this year, with 365 shareholder resolutions filed, according to the 2013 Proxy Preview released this week by As You Sow, a shareholder advocacy group, the Sustainable Investment Institute and Proxy Impact.
Calling the filers "little guys" is actually a misnomer. Socially responsible investor groups, including Trillium Asset Management, Calvert Investments and Walden Asset Management, filed the most resolutions for 2013, followed by pension funds and faith-based groups. These are the big guns that manage billions of dollars. Individual proponents accounted for just 6 percent of the total filings this year.
Just like last year, most of the resolutions filed center on corporate political spending. The focus is not just on election campaign donations, but political lobbying as well.
"The trend on political spending has been around for several years now, and much of that has focused on political contributions to elections. But what started last year and kind of exploded this year is political lobbying disclosure," says Michael Passoff, co-author of the 2013 Proxy Preview and CEO of Proxy Impact, a progressive proxy voting service for socially responsible investors.
"In essence, what shareholders are asking for is disclosure on the political spending done on elections but also year-round," he says.
About 120 resolutions were filed on political spending, representing one-third of the total number of resolutions. That's twice the number filed on the next most popular category this year: climate and energy.
According to Passoff, there were nine banking resolutions filed this year, but only two are likely to go to a vote.
"Those two are proposals at Bank of America and Wells Fargo that ask for an independent review of the companies' internal controls to ensure that their mortgage servicing and foreclosure practices do not violate fair housing and fair lending laws," he says.
Shareholder advocacy picks up steam
The total number of resolutions filed so far in 2013 is greater than the number filed last year at this time, 365 to 345, according to the report from As You Sow.
Support for shareholder resolutions has only been growing over the years. Even just 10 years ago, the average resolution garnered 10 percent of votes, "And now you get a lot of votes that are in the 30 percent range, and some are majority votes," Passoff says.
"The votes have gone up, the number of resolutions has gone up, and the dialogues are going up. There is a trend of companies being more responsive to socially responsible investing, and mainstream investors are supporting them as well," he says.
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Senior investing reporter Sheyna Steiner is a co-author of "Future Millionaires' Guidebook," an e-book written by Bankrate editors and reporters. It's available at all the major e-book retailers.