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Doing the right thing: Proxy Democracy

On Wednesday, the SEC announced the creation of an Investor Advisory Committee, which it said would give the SEC “a greater voice in the Commission’s Work”. In general, the list of names had few surprises: representatives from labor, a select group of academics, and some industry folks. But one name jumped out at me: Mark Latham at Proxy Democracy.

I don’t know Mark at all, but yesterday I had a chance to talk to two other people involved in the project — Andy Eggers, a doctoral student in Government at Harvard, and Bradley Coleman who is studying computational geometry at Simon Fraser in Vancouver — and Proxy Democracy is beyond cool and worth the support (financial and otherwise) of footnoted readers. Basically, the site is taking information from N-PX forms (a filing that footnoted tends to ignore) which tracks how mutual fund companies vote their shares. Since we’re in the midst of annual meeting season right now, Proxy Democracy is pretty busy right now tracking votes. Here’s an example from Wal-Mart (WMT), which is holding its annual meeting today.

In addition to the N-PX forms, which like most SEC filings are historical in nature, nine funds/institutional investors are also providing Proxy Democracy with details on their votes ahead of the actual vote. So in the Wal-Mart example above, you can see how six different funds/institutional investors that own Wal-Mart shares plan to vote.

Across the web, there’s a movement to increase transparency with sites like data.gov and make all sorts of data more accessible, especially government records. But there hasn’t been that much movement in making SEC filings more accessible. For example, the SEC could do a big service by providing an API that would allow programmers to slice and dice different things in the filings. Proxy Democracy is taking an important first step in this area, but to make the site truly useful, it needs more data (and cooperation) from some of the bigger funds/investors like, say, Fidelity, instead of the collection of earthy-crunchy funds that are currently cooperating. Hopefully, being a part of this new panel will help Proxy Democracy and other sites like it to provide more information to investors.