Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bailout Needs Some Strings Attached to Limit Pay

The New York Times - JUST in case you missed it: The Congressional Oversight Panel monitoring the Treasury Department’s bailout of broken banks — the Troubled Asset Relief Program — reported last week that Henry M. Paulson Jr.’s team at Treasury paid significantly more for the assets it bought from banks than they were worth when the deal was announced in the fall.

“The panel’s analysis revealed that in the 10 largest transactions made with TARP funds, for every $100 spent by Treasury, it received assets worth, on average, only $66,” the report said. “This disparity translates into a $78 billion shortfall for the first $254 billion in TARP funds that were spent.”

More taxpayer money down the drain, alas. And all the more reason to focus closely on executive pay restrictions at any bank that receives TARP funding.

Although our long-running financial despond has produced few real positives, surely this is one: Investors are finally seeing just how regally executives live on their shareholders’ dimes. Maybe now they will do something about it.

During good times, banks either hide or try to justify such perks as fleets of corporate jets and Las Vegas junkets. But as companies run to taxpayers for their bailout billions, they are now being forced to forgo the Gulfstreams, the tee times at Pebble Beach and those sumptuous spa treatments.

Could shame, that long-lost American character trait, be making a comeback? Not likely. So it’s important to make Washington’s plan to rein in executive pay airtight. Loud rebukes against executive excess are amusing, but a $500,000 cap on salary means only that the executives will be paid some other way. And requiring companies to recover compensation only if an executive is found to have lied on financial statements? Good luck with that.

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