New Report Exposes Wall Street Lobby Against CEO Pay Reform

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Institute for Policy Studies

New Report Exposes Wall Street Lobby Against CEO Pay Reform

The requirement for companies to report incentive-based pay arrangements is under attack.

Remember the big Wall Street showdown? Thought that ended a year ago, when President Barack Obama signed the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation? Think again.  Wall Street lobbyists don’t give up so easily.

What Congress voted on was a broad outline for reform. Now that the law is moving through the rulemaking process, armies of financial industry lobbyists are working to water down every line.

In a report released today, Public Citizen analyzes the assault on one particular rule, a provision designed to discourage the reckless behavior that got us into the crisis. Specifically, Section 956 of Dodd-Frank requires large financial institutions to report their incentive-based pay arrangements to federal agencies and prohibits pay formulas that “encourage excessive risk.”

Like the other compensation reforms in Dodd-Frank, this is pretty modest.  No rigid pay ceilings, no bonus bans, no meaningful cap on the tax deductibility of exec pay.

And yet, according to Public Citizen’s analysis, 30 financial industry groups have weighed in on the proposed rule. In a fine display of lobbyist creativity, they have come up with every conceivable argument to justify exemptions for their firms or certain executives within their firms.

For example, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company asked for a pass because it is an insurance company -- even though it happens to own a bank that has nearly $4 billion in assets, well above the $1 billion threshold for inclusion.

They also trotted out the argument that if regulators have the power to prohibit pay that encourages excessive risk it will make it hard to recruit top talent (oh yeah, like the talented bunch that got us into this mess).

Public Citizen tallied up how much these firms have spent on their efforts to defend their freedom from CEO pay and other financial reforms: $242.2 million since the beginning of 2010. They have also donated $15.6 million to federal political campaigns in the 2010 cycle.

This week Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner wrote in the Wall Street Journal that he would urge the president to veto any legislation to repeal Dodd-Frank provisions. That’s encouraging.  But it likely means the lobby will re-double their efforts to influence the rule-making process, where the action tends to happen out of the spotlight – unless groups like Public Citizen bring it out into the open.

Sarah Anderson

Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy Project of the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive multi-issue think tank, in Washington DC.

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