Commentary: Bailouts have nobody laughing

This editorial appeared in The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

And we hoped we'd heard the last of the tales of corporate shenanigans. But far from it, as an Associated Press tally of compensation paid to executives in the financial sector last year demonstrates. In several cases, the firms such as Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch also were compensated by taxpayers in the federal bailout.

Sure, they can argue that the execs' big paydays, many of them reflecting stock options and the like, came before the collapse on Wall Street.

But weren't these the geniuses who should have seen the crash coming? Shouldn't they have used their great expertise to sound some warning signals? Maybe urged a little responsibility here and there? Perhaps even reckoned that a little more government oversight might have been helpful to forestall the problems that have brought the economy to the brink and put hundreds of thousands of people out of work?

Instead, it appears the top dogs at the banks were putting their snouts in the trough between taking bows for what turned out to be a boom in play money. The AP has the situation cold. The numbers speak for themselves. To add insult to injury, the big banks that received bailout money have declined so far to say what exactly they've done with the taxpayers' billions.

On the pay issue, the average paid to each of the top executives at the banks in bailout was $2.6 million in salary, bonuses and benefits. The head of Goldman Sachs got nearly $54 million in compensation, and the top five executives got a total of $242 million. Goldman received $10 billion in taxpayer bailout help on Oct. 20. This year, the execs won't collect stock and cash bonuses and will have to get by on $600,000 salaries. Somebody want to reach some tissues over here?

At Merrill Lynch, chief executive John A. Thain received $83 million in earnings. Merrill got a $10 billion check from Uncle Sam, too.

Many of the executives also enjoy the use of company jets and paid club members and drivers and cars. No word on whether any were carried through the hallways at work on gilded chairs held up by assistant vice presidents. And get this: The geniuses also were offered financial planning help paid for by their companies.

The AP surveyed 116 banks that have thus far – thus far – garnered $188 billion in bailout money.

To read the complete editorial, visit The (Raleigh) News & Observer.