Archive for April, 2008

Introducing FocusLists

As part of the relaunch we’re doing next week (more about that soon), we’re unveiling new ways of assessing the proxy voting records of mutual funds. In the past few weeks I’ve been developing an activism rating that is designed to be a simple summary of a fund’s voting record; I’ll blog more about that tomorrow. The other approach that Roop and I have been developing is more collaborative. We call it a FocusList, and I wanted to explain a little about the concept even before we launch the feature because I’d like to get some input before we launch — not just suggestions/feedback, but also some FocusLists from users.

Let me back up and explain the concept a little. The basic problem that we’re trying to solve here is, “How do you describe a ton of votes?” This problem is of course not limited to proxy voting. Political advocacy groups routinely face the same problem in communicating with their audiences about the legislative records of political candidates. (How often have we heard the term “most liberal Senator” in the past few months?) The advocacy groups’ approach has generally been to choose, from the huge list of roll call votes in the legislature, a set of votes that they think are important to their agendas; they then score legislators based on whether they took the liberal or conservative position. (For prominent examples, see the liberal Americans for Democratic Action’s legislative scores and the American Conservative Union’s Congressional Ratings.)

As analysts have started to examine mutual fund proxy voting records, the same kind of analysis has emerged for mutual funds. The best-known report is the AFL-CIO’s key votes survey, which since 1997 has examined how institutional investors vote on resolutions relating to labor issues. In the past six months the Center for Political Accountability released a study examining mutual funds’ voting on political disclosure resolutions; the Investor Environmental Health Network released a report scoring mutual funds on their support for 15 shareholder resolutions on toxic chemicals; and Ceres released a report looking at climate change resolutions.

Our FocusLists are an attempt to make it easier for these and other groups (as well as individual investors) to do their own analysis of mutual fund voting. Our database has over 85,000 proposals, and since last December we’ve been quietly providing an interface to help you search and browse those proposals and see how mutual funds voted on them. Our FocusLists will take this a step further — you will be able to add proposals to your own list (like shopping at Amazon, except free! and no shipping!) and then see how different funds score on your list. And then, perhaps best of all, you can share the list and scores with other ProxyDemocracy users. Our hope is that this will provide a new way for people who know proxy voting pretty well to share their expertise and viewpoints with other users; the flip side of course is that it will help investors new to this area to understand their mutual funds’ voting records as seen by a respected and opinionated insider.

The functionality is completed and has been tested by a few users; Roop and I are working on site layout and graphic design this week in anticipation of our relaunch next week. So why am I blogging about it now rather than waiting until you can try it out? Because I’d like to ask you to start thinking about FocusLists that you would like to create. I’d love to have some great FocusLists published by the time we launch, and in order to get a head start I’m offering to help put it together. If you provide me with a list of proposals you want to include in your FocusList (ie company, meeting date, proposals text/number, like this or this) I will assemble the list for you and transfer it to your account in time for our launch. Contact me at andy [at sign] proxydemocracy [dot] org, and we can get it going!

Even if you don’t have a focus list in mind, I’d love to get your feedback in the comments. This is an experiment and I’m curious what you think.


April 30, 2008 at 11:03 pm 1 comment


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