Critics of Disney brass tout retirement fund voting fracas

Some 73% of participants in the Disney 401(k) plan voted against retaining CEO Michael Eisner on the Disney board. Then-presiding director George Mitchell was opposed by 64% of plan members.

Overall, some 45% of Disney shareholders voted at a March 3 annual meeting against Eisner and 26% against Mitchell, who shortly thereafter was elevated to board chairman.

Roy Disney and Stanley Gold, vocal critics of Eisner, who have been campaigning for the ouster of Eisner and Mitchell, had been seeking documents showing how participants in the company’s 401(k) retirement plan who own Disney stock voted. They said the documents finally were released Monday.

“It is hard to imagine how Mr. Eisner can do what needs to be done at this company without the support of the company’s employees,” Roy Disney and Gold said in a statement.

A company spokesman responded the Disney critics were using the results in a misleading manner. “This is another blatant distortion and manipulation of data in an attempt to continue to mislead Disney shareholders,” Mouse spokesman John Spelich said.

The implication that most employees voted against Eisner and Mitchell is inaccurate, Spelich said, as only about 25% of those participating in the 401(k) voted at the annual meeting and many of those who do participate in the plan are no longer active employees. Furthermore, only 20% of Disney’s 112,000-person workforce participates in the plan.

But Roy Disney and Gold insisted the newly released info suggests the recent splitting of the company’s chairman and CEO posts — which resulted in Mitchell’s elevation — falls short of addressing shareholder concerns over management.

“If Michael Eisner’s no-confidence vote wasn’t so staggeringly high, everyone would be talking about the substantial no-confidence vote against Mr. Mitchell,” the duo said. “It’s important that this not get lost in the process.”

The information was circulated after the close of market trading Monday. Disney shares rose 6¢ to $24.96 on the session.

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