Monday, February 9, 2009

Clueless Wall Street Rapaciousness

As I listen to, and participate in discussions about various public policy needs, here and abroad that require financial resources, I am repeatedly struck by two things:

a. How little money it takes to do some important things (like give every kid in the world a nutritious lunch every day; like give every poor family in the US a lap top, broadband and training; etc); (peanuts compared to launching a war of choice in Iraq or the current multiple bailouts)

b. How we are told year after year that we can't do those things because taking care of kids is too expensive (but we can throw billions and billions of dollars at Merrill Lynch, AIG, etc with essentially zero conditions on what they did with it).

Quite a while ago I was Chief Counsel and Staff Director of the US House of Reps Subcommittee with jurisdiction over Wall Street. So I have some history with financial regulatory issues and some of the people now in the news. It is in that context that I express outrage at the continued failure of our economic, political, regulatory and legal systems to hold people accountable. This isn't my style, but the events of the last couple of weeks have enraged me.

There is a lot of blame to go around here (especially the home equity line of credit gravy train that many of us have abused), but unless we hold the top leadership accountable, nothing will ever change. I think we should hold the media accountable to hold those leaders who created this mess or behaved badly accountable. And we should do so directly, by calling out rapacious people, and making sure everyone we know knows how badly they have behaved. I invite you to join me (not in me inflicting more outraged emails on you, but in other appropriate fora), in nominating and going after people who deserve it. We should demand investigations, public dishonor, and prosecutions where laws and duties have been violated. We all got upset about Blago, but he didn’t do any damage compared to the Wall Street leaders. And he didn’t get any of my money. They have, and continue to hold our their hands.

My nominee today is John Thain, a classless, clueless "leader of finance" who has failed miserably and ripped us all off in the process.

Upon joining Merrill Lynch as the top dog a couple of years ago, Thain received a $15 million signing bonus. The firm announced that Thain would receive at least $50 million per year in compensation and could be paid as much as $120 million a year, based on the company's stock price. The Associated Press in 2007 found Thain was the best paid among the executives of S&P 500 companies, as he had received $83.1 million in compensation.

Thain suggested to directors that he receive a bonus in 2008 of as much as $40 million, because he "saved Merrill" by selling it off to Bank of America (over a weekend as I recall). After the compensation committee at Merrill resisted the request, Thain reportedly dropped his final suggestion of $5-10 million.

Thain also decided to accelerate payments of bonuses to employees at Merrill last December, giving out between $3 billion and $4 billion using money that appeared to come directly from the $15 billion Bank of America and Merrill Lynch had received from us taxpayers (via the Troubled Assets Relief Program). The New York AG woke up and started an investigation of this outrage a week ago.

Thain spent $1.2 million redecorating his office last fall ($1500 waste basket; $87,500 rug.) And then he was headed for Davos last month until his new boss at BofA vetoed the trip, before firing him.

Give the money back, John, and crawl back under the rock! No, maybe you aren't the worst of the bunch, but you are clueless and rapacious enough.

[If you are looking for your own current nominee and are not sure where to start, Google "Wells Fargo Las Vegas"]

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