Insurance News - Legislation may give shareholders 'say on pay' for chiefs [The Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

Jun. 12--When Aflac became the nation's first company to give its shareholders a say on top executives' pay, the Columbus-based insurer displayed a far calmer demeanor than the excitable duck in its well-known commercials.

"What can it hurt?" a longtime director on Aflac's board told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time of the nonbinding vote in 2008.

Apparently it can hurt a lot, judging from the reaction that such "say on pay" proposals are getting now at some major shareholder-owned companies in Georgia.

Home Depot and Coca-Cola Co. opposed shareholder proposals this year to hold such nonbinding votes at future annual shareholder meetings. Coca-Cola's major bottler, Coca-Cola Enterprises, likewise opposed a shareholder proposal seeking a say on large future exit packages called "golden parachutes." Shareholders rejected the proposals at all three companies by votes ranging from 45 percent to 55 percent, over the support of roughly a third of the firms' investors.

Their victories could be short-lived, however, because lawmakers in Washington, D.C., are working on legislation that could make the votes mandatory at all publicly traded companies' annual meetings. The "say on pay" provisions are in both the House and Senate versions of financial reform legislation that lawmakers are trying to meld into a final bill this summer.

And while experts debate how much impact the proposed votes would have, it's clear that many people are angry at a perceived disconnect between stratospheric executive pay and the shaky recovery of many companies, employees and other players in the economy.