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By Erik Kirschbaum. BERLIN Reuters - The reform communist Left party took power in a German state on Friday for the first time since reunification, ending a quarter century of conservative rule in Thuringia and raising the chance of a left-wing threat to Angela Merkel in the next federal vote. Thuringia voted in September in state elections which produced a close result, leading to protracted negotiations involving four parties.

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The agency approved, on a party-line vote, an SEC proposal known as "shareholder access" that will allow shareholders -- particularly institutional investors -- to nominate a minority slate of one or two director candidates for election on corporate boards inexpensively, using company proxy documents. The approval was a major victory for institutional investors seeking a greater voice in how corporations operate.

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Giving shareholders an easier way to nominate a minority slate of directors has been on and off the agenda at the SEC since the s, but has never come to fruition until now. Read "Power to the people, will they use it? Shareholders have long held the right to nominate director candidates, but have had to use their own proxy documents, at a ificant cost.

Traditionally, activist hedge fund managers and corporate raiders have typically used their own proxy cards to nominate directors. The new rule is expected to open the door to director elections for institutional investors. SEC chairmen William Donaldson and Christopher Cox introduced proposals, in and respectively, which would have employed a similar protocol for shareholder nominees to be elected, but neither followed through to adopt the provisions.

The measure is controversial and the two Republican commissioners on the agency's five-person board opposed it.

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Backers of the measure argue that if shareholders had a greater say in the makeup of corporate boards, banks might have packaged fewer toxic mortgages, and the financial crisis might have been averted. However, opponents of the new rules, including the U. Chamber of Commerce, contend that the changes will empower labor unions and environmentalist investor groups in behind-the-scenes conversations at the expense of shareholder value. Tom Quaadman, vice president at the U. Chamber of Commerce. Kathleen Casey, a Republican commissioner who opposed the rule, echoed those concerns.

Sec approves rule giving shareholders new power

Troy Paredes, a Republican commissioner, opposed the rule arguing that it is at odds with state law. Paredes said he was prepared to reach a compromise with Democrats after the Dodd-Frank Act was approved but that he had not been able to find a consensus.

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However, labor groups and institutional investors were pleased with the result, arguing that the measure doesn't empower special interests because a majority of all investors at a company would be necessary to elect a shareholder-backed director candidate. Ann Yerger, executive director of the Council of Institutional Investors said the rule is "groundbreaking" for investors and is necessary in response to a "massive failure of oversight by boards" during the financial crisis that shook the economy to the brink in So at a board with eight members, a shareholder could nominate two director candidates.

Investor groups would not be eligible to use these new powers if they are holding the securities for the purpose of changing control of the company or if they want to nominate more director candidates than permitted using the rule.

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The SEC had been considering completely exempting small public corporations from the requirement. Charles Elson, director of the John L. Elson added that even institutional investors who plan to use the new inexpensive process to nominate directors will have to spend ificant sums in solicitation costs to get their message across.

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Instead, Elson argued that the SEC should have followed Delaware's approach of allowing shareholders to opt in or out of setting up the process to allow investors to nominate directors. Noting the high cost of proxy contests, Elson said one option is to require companies to partially reimburse shareholders who stage proxy contests even if they lose but obtain a substantial support.

Schapiro had been waiting for the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act -- which was approved in July -- because the statute has a provision that seeks to make the SEC rule litigation proof. The SEC has been concerned that the U. Chamber would file a lawsuit arguing that the agency doesn't have the authority to impose the new rules.

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Read about the full bank bill. That law confirms the commission's authority to act in this regard.

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Now it is time to resolve the issue of under what circumstances the Commission should adopt proxy access. However, the U. Chamber's Quaadman said the chamber would analyze the regulation to see if the SEC acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner. Casey, one of the Republican commissioners, argues that the rule would have a rough time winning against any lawsuits filed against it.

An effort by then-SEC chairman Donaldson in to give investors a greater say in board elections failed after corporate groups, including the U. Chamber of Commerce, lobbied against it. Donaldson, a Republican, had ed with two Democrats on the five-member commission to introduce a proposal to allow shareholders to have their director candidates included in company proxy rules.

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However, regulatory observers argue that, after voting with Democrats to adopt two other controversial rules for hedge funds and mutual funds, Donaldson didn't have the political capital to adopt shareholder access with two Democrats.

Donaldson's two Republican colleagues at the time, Cynthia Glassman and Paul Atkins, were strongly opposed to the director election measure. Christopher Cox, who succeeded Donaldson as chairman, introduced his own shareholder-access approach in but then opposed it as part of a party-line vote later that year.

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Up Log In. SEC approves rule giving shareholders new power Published: Aug. ET By Ronald D. Orol and. Apple reports record earnings and sales for a non-holiday quarter.

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