Photo of Matthew Franker

Matthew Franker

Matt Franker has nearly twenty years of experience advising public and private companies, underwriters, and boards of directors in capital markets offerings, securities disclosure and compliance, corporate governance and ESG matters, mergers and acquisitions, and general corporate issues. Matt has significant experience representing companies from a broad range of industries, including life sciences, financial services, manufacturing, energy, consumer products, and telecommunications. Matt, a former SEC staff member, also has extensive experience advising clients on SEC rulemakings and regulatory proceedings.

Matt has been recognized in Legal 500 for his work on capital markets transactions, and his capital markets experience includes advising companies and underwriters on registered and exempt offerings of common and preferred equity securities and investment grade, high-yield and convertible debt securities, exchange offers, debt tender offers, and consent solicitations. Matt has an extensive securities advisory practice focused on assisting public companies in a wide variety of disclosure, corporate governance, and compliance matters.

Prior to joining Covington, Matt served as an attorney-adviser with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's Division of Corporation Finance. While at the SEC, he worked on a wide variety of transactional and securities compliance matters, with an emphasis on the manufacturing, construction, and financial services industries. His experience at the SEC focused on IPOs, secondary offerings, mergers and acquisitions, exchange offers, going-private transactions, PIPEs and private equity financings and evaluating no-action requests to exclude shareholder proposals under Exchange Act Rule 14a-8.

On February 22, 2023, the New York Stock Exchange (“NYSE”) and the Nasdaq Stock Market (“Nasdaq”) filed rule proposals[1] to adopt new listing standards implementing Rule 10D-1 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. That rule, which the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) adopted in October 2022, requires national securities exchanges to implement standards to require listed companies to adopt and publicly file so-called “clawback” policies to recover erroneously awarded incentive-based compensation following accounting restatements. Rule 10D-1, which was first proposed in 2015 and re-opened for comment twice, implements Section 954 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

The proposed listing standards are subject to a 21-day comment period once published in the Federal Register before the SEC can approve them, and must, in any event, become effective by November 28, 2023. Listed companies will be required to adopt clawback policies that comply with the new standards within 60 days of the effective date of the applicable listing standards (the “Adoption Deadline”).

The listing standards proposed by both NYSE and Nasdaq are materially consistent with Rule 10D-1 and its adopting release. Among other things, both proposed listing standards provide for the commencement of delisting proceedings for listed companies that fail to either adopt a compliant clawback policy or comply with such policy after a clawback obligation arises. These delisting provisions are discussed below, and, for an in-depth discussion of Rule 10D-1’s requirements, please refer to our previous alert.

NYSE – Delisting for Noncompliance

Failure to Adopt a Policy: As proposed, a company listed on NYSE that fails to adopt a compliant clawback policy by the Adoption Deadline will have five days to notify NYSE, after which the exchange will send a written delinquency notification to the company. Upon receipt of this notification, the company would have five days to contact NYSE to discuss the delinquency and to issue a press release disclosing the company’s delinquency, the reason for the delinquency and, if known, the anticipated date on which a clawback policy will be adopted. If the company fails to issue such a press release in time, NYSE will issue a press release stating that the company has received a delinquency notice.Continue Reading NYSE and Nasdaq Propose Clawback Listing Standards

February 16, 2023, Covington Alert

The 2023 proxy season is underway for public companies and their investors. Corporate secretaries, lawyers, and executives are actively engaged in the SEC’s shareholder proposal process. Consistent with recent proxy seasons, a significant number of companies are receiving proposals calling for new or enhanced political disclosures. Although these proposals have been around for some time, recent contentious election cycles, debate over hot-button issues, including the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, and increased investor focus on ESG matters (as well as criticism of such focus) have cast an ever-increasing focus on disclosure of corporate political expenditures.

Effectively responding to shareholder proposals on this issue is essential. Although shareholder proposals are non-binding, proposals that are approved – or that fail but with a substantial level of support – will give rise to an expectation that the company will address the subject matter of the proposal in the months following the annual meeting. A company’s failure to act on a shareholder proposal that is approved or that receives strong support can result in reputational damage to the company and could signal to shareholders and proxy advisory firms that the board is not responsive to a matter of significant shareholder concern. This can give rise to further shareholder proposals and potential votes against some or all of the company’s directors at the next annual meeting. In some circumstances, failure to effectively respond to a shareholder proposal could lead activist investors to threaten or initiate a proxy contest in advance of the next annual meeting.

In recent years, shareholders have submitted hundreds of proposals aimed at encouraging companies to voluntarily disclose more information on their websites with regard to their corporate political spending and processes. In Covington’s 2015 guide on “Responding to Corporate Political Disclosure Initiatives,” we noted that “although some have argued that these efforts are primarily intended to force companies to scale back their lobbying and political activities—not to promote transparency—they continue unabated.” The pace and breadth of these proposals has expanded in the ensuing years, with a significant number of shareholder proposals focused on two topics—political contributions and lobbying expenditures. According to the Center for Political Accountability (“CPA”), its model political disclosure resolution was used 22 times each in the 2021 and 2022 proxy seasons, resulting in six votes in excess of 50 percent in 2021 and two in 2022. We expect, and have begun to see, a similar number of politically-focused shareholder proposals this proxy season. As of December 2022, for example, CPA reported that its shareholder partners have “filed 25 proposals in the 2023 proxy season, with more expected over the coming months.”Continue Reading Tips for Responding To Corporate Political Disclosure Shareholder Proposals

On October 26, 2022, the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) adopted a long-awaited rule[1] that will require listed companies to adopt and publicly file so-called “clawback” policies to recover erroneously awarded incentive-based compensation following accounting restatements. Companies with securities listed on national securities exchanges, including NYSE and Nasdaq, will be required to implement such policies within 60 days of the effective date of new listing standards, which the exchanges must adopt within 12 months of the new rule’s publication in the Federal Register. Companies who fail to comply will be subject to delisting.

The most significant deviation from the SEC’s initial proposal of the clawback rule in 2015 is that Rule 10D-1 will require companies to conduct a clawback analysis not only for “Big R” accounting restatements, which must be disclosed under Item 4.02(a) of Form 8-K, but also for “little r” accounting restatements, which involve the correction of errors in prior period financial statements when those financial statements are included in a current period filing.

Clawback Policy Requirements

Under the new rule, a listed company’s clawback policy must require the company to recover, reasonably promptly, erroneously awarded incentive-based compensation from persons who served as an executive officer at any time during the performance period for such incentive-based compensation and who received such compensation during the three fiscal years preceding the date on which the company is required to prepare an accounting restatement. The compensation to be recovered is the amount in excess of what would have been paid based on the restated results.Continue Reading SEC Requires Clawback Policy