James McRitchie and other shareholders request that directors of Alphabet Inc. (“Company”) amend its bylaws to include the following language:
"Shareholder approval is required for any advance notice bylaw amendments that require the nomination of candidates more than 90 days before the annual meeting,impose new disclosure requirements for director nominees, including disclosures related to past and future plans, orrequire nominating shareholders to disclose limited partners or business associates, except to the extent such investors own more than 5% of the Company’s shares."
Under SEC Rule 14a-19, the universal proxy card must include all director nominees presented by management and shareholders for election. Although the Rule implies each side’s nominees must be grouped together and clearly identified as such, in a fair and impartial manner, most rules for director elections are set in company bylaws.
For Rule 14a-19 to be implemented equitably, boards must not undertake bylaw amendments that deter legitimate efforts by shareholders to submit nominees. The bylaw amendments set forth in the proposed resolution would presumptively deter legitimate use of Rule 14a-19 by deterring legitimate efforts by shareholders to seek board representation through a proxy contest.
The power to amend bylaws is shared by directors and shareholders. Although directors have the power to adopt bylaw amendments, shareholders have the power to check that authority by repealing board-adopted bylaws. Directors should not amend the bylaws in ways that inequitably restrict shareholders’ right to nominate directors. This resolution simply asks the board to commit not to amend the bylaws to deter legitimate efforts to seek board representation, without submitting such amendments to shareholders. We urge the Board not to further amend its advance notice bylaws until shareholders have at least voted on this proposal.
Bloomberg’s Matt Levine speculates bylaws might require disclosure submissions “on paper woven from unicorns’ manes,” with requirements waived for the board’s nominees. While Mr. Levine depicts humorous and exaggerated possibilities, some companies are adopting amendments clearly designed to discourage fair elections.
Directors of at least one company (Masimo Corp.) recently adopted bylaw amendments that could deter legitimate efforts by shareholders to seek board representation through a proxy contest. Masimo’s advance notice bylaws “resemble the ‘nuclear option’ and offers a case study in how rational governance devices can become unduly weaponized, writes Lawrence Cunningham. Directors of other companies are considering similar proposals.
To ensure shareholders can vote on any proposal that would impose inequitable restrictions, we urge a vote FOR Fair Elections.