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Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Johnson Meets the Press

by: Sean Hanna, Editor in Chief

Fidelity's Ned Johnson is continuing to take his case against mandated proxy-vote disclosure to the media. One day after penning a opinion column in the Wall Street Journal with Vanguard's John Brennan, the Fidelity chairman granted follow-up interviews to the Wall Street Journal and the Boston Globe. The debate was also covered by the Washington Post.

In the interviews Johnson reiterated his concern that the SEC's proposed proxy-vote disclosure rules would open the industry to pressure from special-interest groups with agendas not in the best interests of share holders.

He also told the Journal that the support for the proposed regs shown during the public comment period came from special-interest groups and not shareholders. "So far, the reaction of shareholders, with the exception of special-interest groups, is very close to zero," Johnson told the paper.

He also told the Boston Globe that Fidelity prefers to talk to the company when it disagrees with an item on a proxy statement rather than vote against the company. "We may see something on a proxy statement that we don't like and talk to the company. In a number of instances, compromises have come out, and they work to everyone's benefit," he is quoted as saying.

"In extreme cases, we vote against management. On the percentage basis, I really can't tell you. If we disagree with management, we vote against them," he added.

While quoting a spokesperson for the ICI to the effect that most typical shareholders are not actively supporting the rule, the Washington Post noted that the industry trade group has failed to poll investors on the issue.  

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