The lobbying effort began more than a year ago. It involved some of the biggest names in corporate America and meetings with members of both parties on the House Financial Services Committee and Senate banking committee.
The companies and their Republican allies in Congress call comparisons between the chief and everyone else in the company “useless.”
But some Democrats and investors say the information should be issued to highlight the growing income disparity in the United States. They add that opponents of disclosure merely want to hide the outrageous scale of executive pay packages.
On Wednesday, a House committee approved a bill that would repeal the disclosure requirement.
Disclosing such comparisons “can mislead or confuse investors,” said Rep. Nan A.S. Hayworth (R-N.Y.), who filed the bill to repeal the disclosure. “It creates heat but sheds no light.”
She also said the calculation of the ratio would be a burden for companies, especially those with global operations.
The committee vote was largely along partisan lines: Twenty-nine Republicans and four Democrats supported repeal; 21 Democrats opposed it.
“The real reason House Republicans want to keep the typical worker’s pay secret is that it may embarrass some companies to reveal that they pay their CEO in the range of 400 times what they pay their typical worker,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who added the requirement to the financial regulatory overhaul bill that passed last year.
Executive compensation at the nation’s largest firms has more than quadrupled in real terms since the 1970s, according to research by Carola Frydman of MIT’s Sloan School of Management and Raven E. Molloy of the Federal Reserve, even as pay for 90 percent of American earners has stalled.
In 1970, average executive pay at the nation’s top companies was 28 times the average worker income, according to the Frydman-Molloy data and numbers provided by Emmanuel Saez at the University of California at Berkeley. By 2005, executive pay had jumped to 158 times that of the average worker.
Concern over the income disparity led Menendez to add the reporting requirement to the financial overhaul legislation. The requirement calls for public companies to report the median annual total compensation for workers and the annual total compensation for the chief executive, and to report the ratio of the two.
The Center on Executive Compensation has led the criticism of the provision. The group is part of the HR Policy Association, which represents the human resources executives at 325 large companies.
The thrust of the group’s criticism is that the information would have little value for investors comparing firms, because companies have workforces that differ in skills and expected pay. Wages also vary across regions and industries.