Lawmakers express caution on exec pay

The public is still raging over executive bonuses, but some lawmakers and government officials are warning against the government quickly imposing new rules.

Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.), chairman of a House Financial Services subcommittee, said on Tuesday at the Institutional Investor Educational Foundation that he was wary of Congress legislating broad new pay standards.

“Let’s not light up our torches,” he said, referring to the populist outcry that surrounded AIG’s announcement that it would pay $165 million in executive bonuses while the firm received $180 billion in taxpayer bailout money.

“There is nobody I know in Congress who really knows the real worth of a carpenter or a plumber or, for that matter, a CFO or CEO,” Kanjorski said. “How far do we really want government to get into our lives or our business?”

In March, Kanjorski voted for the House bill that sought to rein in bonuses for financial services companies receiving government assistance. That measure passed, 328-93, but has not been voted on in the Senate.

The forum also featured representatives from union investment funds who have campaigned against executive pay at Wall Street firms. Union investment funds have been pushing “clawback” efforts to recoup money paid to executives.

In a letter on Tuesday, the CtW Investment Group, representing funds associated with the Change to Win unions, urged Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to “take all available measures” to replace Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis.

The bank has received roughly $45 billion in taxpayer bailout money.

Kanjorski said he does not think Congress should overemphasize executive pay compared with the “weighty” matters of financial regulatory reform. Still, the House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing on executive pay this month, he said.

Separately, Securities and Exchange Commission Chairwoman Mary Schapiro testified to Congress on Tuesday that she intends to look at pay practices and potential regulatory changes to strengthen shareholder rights.

“Next month we will take up a broad package of corporate disclosure improvements, all designed to provide shareholders with important information about their company’s key policies, procedures and practices, including compensation policies and incentive arrangements,” Schapiro said in written testimony before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government.