Four ex-Georgeson LLC employees are now on trial for fraud. Michael Sedlak, Charles Garske, Donna Ackerly, and Richard Gottcent are accused of bribing an Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) employee for information about the way Georgeson’s investor clients vote on shareholder proposals. Georgeson is a proxy solicitation firm. ISS is registered with the US Securities and Exchange Commission as an investment adviser.
According to prosecutors, the ISS employee, Brian Bennett, was given $14K in bribes in the form of tickets to different events, including a U2 concert and Boston Red Sox baseball game, as well as for meals and an airline ticket. Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen told a federal jury that the purpose of procuring the information was to obtain an illegal advantage in their work, which involved representing companies when there are shareholder votes. Rosen said that the defendants were “not entitled” to these “secrets” that they purchased.
It is the job of proxy advisory firms to give information and recommendations to institutional investors about proposals that publicly traded company shareholders are expected to vote on. These firms collect information about institutional investors’ holdings and public votes and they share that information with publicly traded companies. This allows proxy solicitors and their clients to assess how certain shareholder votes on proposals will likely go, which can help clients figure out how they might affect certain shareholder votes.