Dirt Diggers Digest No. 66

Editor: Philip Mattera

February 1, 2006



-- 1. SEC will issue new rules for executive pay disclosure

-- 2. Expanded lobbying disclosure is on the table

-- 3. Irresponsible corporations recognized

-- 4. ICCR's database on shareholder activism

-- 5. Searching the "Enron Corpus"

-- 6. Accessing reports on European companies

-- 7. Major upgrade of FirstGov is unveiled

-- 8. USDA completes work on comprehensive subsidy database

-- 9. Bibliography on "sensitive but unclassified" information

-- 10. Another Change to Win job announcement [omitted from web archive]

1. SEC will issue new rules for executive pay disclosure


The Securities and Exchange Commission announced in January that it will issue proposed revisions to its rules on the disclosure of executive compensation. The Commission's press release said the proposal "would refine the currently required tabular disclosure and combine it with improved narrative disclosure to elicit clearer and more complete disclosure of compensation of the principal executive officer, principal financial officer, the three other highest paid executives and the directors."

One result of the changes would be the addition of a total compensation column to the summary compensation table. This would allow proxy readers to see at a glance the aggregate compensation figure rather than having to engage in some tedious arithmetic. The table would also show a dollar value for all stock-based awards and the aggregate increase in the actuarial value of pension plans accrused during the year. The threshold for disclosing individual executive perks would be reduced to $10,000. Improvements would also be made to the reporting on related-person transactions, director independence and corporate governance matters.


2. Expanded lobbying disclosure is on the table


The reform frenzy gripping Capitol Hill in the wake of the Abramoff scandal includes calls for more extensive disclosure of lobbying activities. Republicans and Democrats alike have introduced bills that are supposed to shed more light on the activities of the K Street crowd. One of the more aggressive measures is Sen. John McCain's S.2128, which would mandate quarterly reporting and the creation of a fully functional database containing the information in those filings.

It remains to be seen how much expanded disclosure survives when Congress completes its exercise in reform. Meanwhile, transparency in lobbying is increasing elsewhere. As a recent front-page story (January 24) in the New York Times pointed out, numerous state governments have outpaced Washington in enacting reform measures. All but one of the states put lobbyist information online. (The holdout is Pennsylvania, where a new disclosure push is stalled in the legislature.) Transparency may be on the rise in Europe as well. The Financial Times reported recently (January 28) that the association of EU lobbyists, also feeling Abramoff-related pressure, has dropped its longstanding opposition to disclosure.


3. Irresponsible corporations recognized


In connection with International Human Rights Day, Global Exchange recently issued a report called The 14 Worst Corporate Evildoers. Stating that "corporations carry out some of the most horrific human rights abuses of modern times," the report catalogues the sins of companies such as Caterpillar, Chevron, Coca-Cola, the KBR unit of Halliburton, Lockheed Martin, Suez and Wal-Mart.

Along similar lines, the Berne Declaration and Pro Natura recently used the opening day of the elite World Economic Forum to release its Public Eye Awards for corporate irresponsibility. The winners were Chevron (for the environmental damage done by its predecessor company Texaco in Ecuador), Walt Disney (for using suppliers that violate human rights) and Citigroup (for abetting tax evasion).


4. ICCR's database on shareholder activism


The Dirt Diggers Digest has just learned of EthVest, an online database about shareholder activism that was launched in September by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. ICCR, the pioneer of progressive shareholder activism, has compiled data on more than 2,000 shareholder resolutions put forth over the past dozen years.

EthVest makes it possible to search the texts of the resolutions as well as to compile data according to target company, issue, filer/sponsoring organization and other criteria. The database makes it easy to track the evolution of the different branches of shareholder activism and to see how various resolutions have fared when they came up for a vote. The only drawback is cost. EthVest is being marketed to investment managers, so the starting price for annual subscriptions is $2,500.


5. Searching the "Enron Corpus"


With the trial of Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling beginning this week, it is worth noting that a vast collection of internal Enron communications is available on the open internet. Some 1.5 million e-mail messages made public by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as part of its investigation of Enron's manipulation of energy markets in 2000 are now posted on the web. There are even special search engines for exploring the contents of the messages--known collectively as the Enron Corpus--including Enron Email and Enron Email Corpus. Wired News reports that the e-mail collection is being used to analyze everything from antispam filtering to social-network mapping.


6. Accessing reports on European companies


Your editor has just learned about a service called Researcha, which provides pay-as-you-go access to private company information in the United Kingdom and Continental Europe. Payment is made via credit card.

For the UK, Researcha provides data from the information company ICC on corporations and their directors. For ten other European countries, Researcha provides both D&B-type credit reports and full reviews, which also include data on ownership, principals, legal filings, etc.


7. Major upgrade of FirstGov is unveiled


FirstGov.gov, a site that provides access to information and data from federal, state and local government agencies, has just completed a major upgrade. Among the improvements are an expansion of the database from about 8 million to some 40 million pages and a new search engine powered by Vivisimo Inc.'s clustering technology and Microsoft's MSN search tool.

The section designated for Business has information that will be of interest to corporate researchers, such as quick links to Central Contractor Registration and a summary of the procedures by which a company gets an export license.


8. USDA completes work on comprehensive subsidy database


The U.S. Department of Agriculture has notified key members of the Senate that it has finally completed work on a comprehensive database of all federal farm payments--a task it was assigned in the 2002 Farm Bill. The development was disclosed in a press release issued by Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, who along with Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley had been notified of the fact by USDA Undersecretary J.B. Penn. There was no indication, however, on when the database might be available to the public.

The new compilation would be a more comprehensive version of the farm subsidy database put together by the Environmental Working Group, which was last updated in November. USDA's database is supposed to reveal for the first time the names of the ultimate individual recipients of certain payments that EWG was able to attribute only to the large cooperatives to which the individual farmers and farm businesses belong.


9. Bibliography on "sensitive but unclassified" information


Freedom of information is being undermined by the Bush Administration's growing restrictions on information that is unclassified but deemed "sensitive" by federal officials. There is now enough research on this dangerous trend that a reference librarian at the Georgetown University Law Library has been able to put together a bibliography on the subject for the website LLRX.com. Writing recently in The Nation, Rep. Henry Waxman called "sensitive but unclassified" a "pseudo- classification...that the Bush Administration has used to hide embarrassing facts."  


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email: pmattera@goodjobsfirst.org