Top Executives at Bruised Firms Among Wall Street's Highest Paid

Senators Christopher Dodd, left, and Richard Shelby chat at a hearing yesterday. Dodd wants to limit executive compensation at firms that participate in the federal bailout.
Senators Christopher Dodd, left, and Richard Shelby chat at a hearing yesterday. Dodd wants to limit executive compensation at firms that participate in the federal bailout. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
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By Cecilia Kang and Annys Shin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Some of the biggest financial firms that could benefit from the government's rescue plan also handed out some of Wall Street's biggest paychecks to their top executives.

Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein, for instance, took home nearly $54 million in salary, perks, bonuses and other stock awards in 2007. J.P. Morgan Chase chief executive James Dimon collected $30 million in cash, stock and options. And former Wachovia chief executive G. Kennedy Thompson received total compensation of about $15.6 million.

As Congress and the Bush administration wrangle over the details of a $700 billion bailout plan for the financial-services industry, lawmakers are moving to make sure executives at firms that take taxpayer money don't continue to receive gigantic paychecks or walk off with huge severance payments. The details on how such curbs would work have yet to be finalized.

Spokesmen for J.P. Morgan Chase and Wachovia declined to say whether their firms would take part in the bailout or to comment on the proposed restrictions on executive pay. Representatives for Goldman Sachs did not return phone calls.

The pay cap "is a huge point for us," said Scott Talbott, head lobbyist for the Financial Services Roundtable, a trade group that represents large financial institutions. "Each company has a compensation board with people who are closest to the all facets of a business to be able to weigh compensation levels. But it's an uphill battle politically to fight against executive compensation as part of a $700 billion bailout."

At the heart of the debate is the notion that Wall Street's lucrative, incentive-laden pay packages encourage executives to make ever riskier bets on future business. During the boom, such actions produced spectacular results. But now, as the markets unwind, that risk-taking is considered a liability and damaging to a firm's long-term health.

There is a precedent for capping executive pay as a condition of receiving federal aid. When Chrysler took a federal bailout in 1979, executive salaries were cut as much as 10 percent and chief executive Lee Iacocca's paycheck that year was $1.

More recently, when regulators took over mortgage finance Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac this month, they eliminated $12.59 million in exit payments for executives Daniel H. Mudd of Fannie Mae and Richard F. Syron of Freddie Mac. The executives will now get a combined $9.43 million upon their exit.

At a Senate banking committee hearing yesterday, panel Chairman Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) insisted executives be held accountable for driving their firms into financial turmoil, should they seek federal help.

He said the Bush administration's plan presented would do "nothing to stop the very authors of this calamity to walk away with bonuses and golden parachutes worth millions of dollars."

Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. responded that placing restrictions on executive pay could undermine the plan.

"We must have that critical debate, but we must get through this period first. Right now, all of us are focused on the immediate need to stabilize our financial system," Paulson said in the hearing.

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