As the backlash builds around the country to the proposed $700 billion bailout of Wall Street, a shocking new figure is making headlines.
It turns out that the five biggest investment banks gave their top execs more than $3.1 billion over the last five years alone, doubling their pay even as those executives made the decisions that landed the country in this huge mess.
From Bloomberg News, here's a couple of highlights: Merrill Lynch paid $172 million to former CEO Stan O'Neal. It paid another $86 million to CEO John Thain, for a month's work, before Bank of America bought the firm.
And Bear Stearns managed to give $161 million to CEO Jimmy Cayne before it was taken over by the government.
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, the architect of the current bailout plan, got $111 million between 2003 and 2006. He was CEO of Goldman Sachs before coming to Washington.
Lots of money, but a much larger pile of cash went into bonus pools handed out to high-perfoming employees, according to Bloomberg's analysis.
For instance, Goldman, Morgan Stanley, Merrill, Lehman Brothers, and Bear Stearns gave their 185,687 employees $66 billion in 2007, of which $39 billion was in bonuses.
One possibility is a "clawback" provision that could force executives to return money made in the past, if it is determined that the bonuses were linked to troubled assets the government must now take over.
The Christian Science Monitor reported that language in one draft of the deal under discussion now would take back bonuses based on "earnings, gains, or other criteria that are later proved to be inaccurate; limits on incentives based on risks deemed 'inappropriate or excessive;' and limits on severance compensation to senior executives 'in the public interest.' "
"I don't want the federal taxpayer to be at risk for their bad debt, and then the guy who incurred the debt gets tens of millions of dollars on the way out the door," Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services panel, said on Face the Nation this week.
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