Pay Rule Led Chrysler to Spurn Loan, Agency Says

By David Cho, Peter Whoriskey and Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Top officials at Chrysler Financial turned away a government loan because executives didn't want to abide by new federal limits on pay, according to new findings by a federal watchdog agency.

The government had offered a $750 million loan earlier this month as part of its efforts to prop up the ailing auto industry, including Chrysler, which is racing to avoid bankruptcy. Chrysler Financial is a major lender to Chrysler dealerships and customers.

In forgoing the loan, Chrysler Financial opted to use more expensive financing from private banks, adding to the burden on the already fragile automaker and its financing company.

Chrysler Financial officials denied in a statement that the company's executives had refused to accept new limits on their pay, adding that the firm turned down the loan because it no longer needed it. But their account conflicts with a report set to be released today by the Treasury's special inspector general for the federal bailout, saying the executives' refusal led Treasury to withdraw the loan offer.

"It was certainly a deal-breaker from Treasury's perspective," said Neil M. Barofsky, the special inspector general, who spoke to the bailout program's chief compliance officer about the situation last week.

The incident is the latest controversy to illustrate the hazards confronting the Obama administration as it sets out to assist private firms.

The uproar over the federal financial rescue, much of it focused on executive pay at bailed-out firms, has made companies skittish about taking government aid. Several big banks, such as J.P. Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, have said the bailout money now carries a stigma and have taken steps to pay it back. A program to aid small-business lenders has been stymied by the firms' reluctance to accept pay limits and other requirements of bailout loans.

Government officials have said that unless financial firms have enough resources to lend liberally to consumers, the economy cannot be revived.

The Treasury Department previously lent Chrysler Financial $1.5 billion, when less stringent requirements on executive compensation were in place for recipients of federal bailout money. But since that first loan was announced on Jan. 16, the Obama administration and Congress have toughened the rules.

During March, when it seemed that the first loan would run out, the Obama administration began working on a deal to lend the company an additional $750 million.

It did not take long for most of the agreement to fall in place. But on April 7, the Treasury asked Chrysler Financial to have its top 25 executives sign waivers regarding their compensation, according to the special inspector general's report.

Those waivers would have barred the executives from suing the Treasury or Chrysler Financial over new pay restrictions. As part of the economic stimulus package, Congress approved compensation limits, and the Treasury is working on clarifying what the firms must do to comply with the rules.

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