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About 22 per cent of U.S. companies with the highest-paid CEOs received taxpayer bailouts after the 2008 financial crash.
Eight per cent of highly paid CEOs were fired for poor performance but received golden parachutes valued, on average, at $48 million US.
Another eight per cent of highly paid CEOs ran afoul of the law and paid fraud-related fines or settlements.
CEOs paid 354 times more than average American
The left-leaning think tank based in Washington, D.C., examined the records of 241 corporate chief executives over the last 20 years.
It discovered that chief executives of large companies received about 354 times as much pay as the average American worker in 2012. That gap has soared since 1993, when CEOs of big companies received about 195 times as much.
Over the past 20 years, we have seen no shortage of creative and practical proposals for reining in excessive executive compensation. Three pending reforms strike us as particularly urgent:
CEO-worker pay ratio disclosure: Three years after President Barack Obama signed the Dodd-Frank legislation, the SEC has still not implemented this commonsense transparency measure. The reform would discourage both large pay disparities that can harm employee morale and productivity and excessive executive pay levels that can encourage excessively risky behavior.
Pay restrictions on executives of large financial institutions: Within nine months of the enactment of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, regulators were supposed to have issued guidelines that prohibit large financial institutions from granting incentive-based compensation that “encourages inappropriate risks.” Regulators are still dragging their feet on this modest reform.
Limiting the deductibility of executive compensation: At a time when Congress is debating sharp cuts to essential public services, corporations are able to avoid paying their fair share of taxes by deducting unlimited amounts from their IRS bill for the cost of executive compensation. Two bills, the Stop Subsidizing Multimillion Dollar Corporate Bonuses Act (S.1746) and the Income Equity Act (H.R. 199) would fix this outrageous loophole and significantly reduce taxpayer subsidies for excessive CEO pay.
Fraud makes for another useful lens to help bring abysmal CEO performance into focus. Not counting the CEOs of bailed-out companies and those forced out of their jobs, another 19 of Corporate America’s pay leaders over the last two decades led companies that found themselves having to pay out mega millions in fraud-related fines and settlements. Eighteen shelled out more than $100 million.
In most cases, the companies paid these sums as part of negotiated deals that allowed them to deny any wrongdoing. One CEO had to pay a penalty out of his own pocket. This chief executive had backdated stock options for his own personal gain (see Table 3).
Eleven of these CEOs had left their firms before the fraud charges were fully resolved.9 Former Bristol-Myers Squibb CEO Charles Heimbold, for example, had exited and been appointed George W. Bush’s ambassador to Sweden by the time his firm paid $450 million to settle government and civil cases related to accounting fraud during his tenure. Heimbold never returned any of his compensation.