Department of Labor Commences Proxy Voting Inquiry

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The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Labor (DOL) recently mailed a letter to certain retirement plans requesting information regarding proxy voting activities. The letter states that it was sent to a “stratified, random sample of employee benefit plans,” and that the information will be used by the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) to assess the level of compliance with ERISA in the area of proxy voting. It appears that this inquiry is related, at least in part, to the DOL’s concern in recent years that certain plan sponsors may be using the proxy voting process to influence business, social, and political goals while not providing clear benefits to plan participants.

Background

The DOL has a long-standing position that proxy voting is integral to the fiduciary act of managing plan assets. Most recently, in 2008, the DOL issued Interpretive Bulletin §2509.08-2 (IB 08-2), which superseded prior guidance on proxy voting and expanded on DOL’s views on the topic.

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