Study: Mutual funds aid excess CEO pay
Corporate watchdogs find fund firms' proxy votes weigh heavily in favor of management on compensation issues.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) – A study analyzing proxy votes on executive compensation issues alleges that mutual fund firms have enabled excess CEO pay.
The study, released Tuesday morning, was conducted by the Corporate Library and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). It looked at the proxy voting records of 18 of the 25 largest mutual fund families.
The study found that mutual fund firms, which own nearly a quarter of all U.S. publicly traded companies, voted 74 percent of the time to support management on compensation issues -- either by voting in favor of management's proposals or recommendations, or against shareholder proposals calling for executive pay reform.
The worst offenders, the report found, were Morgan Stanley Funds, AIM Investments, Dreyfus Corporation, AllianceBernstein and OppenheimerFunds. Morgan Stanley supported management proposals nearly 95 percent of the time, the report found.
When asked to comment on the report, Chad Peterson, a spokesman for Morgan Stanley Investment Management, said "in accordance with its proxy voting policies, Morgan Stanley Investment Management votes all proxies solely based on its fiduciary obligations to its clients... As stated in our proxy policy, '[Morgan Stanley Investment Management] will, in a prudent and diligent manner, vote proxies in the best interests of clients consistent with the objective of maximizing long-term investment returns.'"
The report's authors noted that "although poorly drafted or otherwise flawed shareholder proposals do make it onto company proxy statements on occasion, we believe that the bulk of shareholder proposals on executive compensation would tie pay more closely to company performance or encourage additional disclosure on executive compensation."
The mutual fund firms most likely to challenge executive pay packages were TIAA-CREF, American Century, Federated and Vanguard. TIAA-CREF supported shareholder proposals 53.4 percent of the time, while Federated opposed management proposals 61.2 percent of the time.
The study did find, however, that a majority of all mutual fund voters voted in favor of proposals to expense stock options and cap severance agreements.
In response to the report, a spokesperson from Dreyfus wrote in an e-mail, "The Dreyfus Corporation follows the practice of Mellon Financial Corporation's Proxy Policy Committee, which does review certain proxies (per the guidelines and at its discretion) on a case-by-case basis. We do not disclose any details about our voting on a particular proxy or a proxy issue, such as executive compensation, except as required by law." (see the policy)
A spokesperson for AIM Investments pointed to AIM's proxy voting policy at its Web site. AllianceBernstein and OppenheimerFunds did not return calls seeking comment.
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