Fund Companies Respond to CEO Pay Issue
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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Fund Companies Respond to CEO Pay Issue

The report released Tuesday by research group the Corporate Library and government workers' union the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has drawn brief responses from some of the mutual fund companies mentioned in its pages.

The report examined the voting records of 18 fund firms with regard to executive pay decisions at companies in which the funds held stock. On the whole, the sponsors of the study concluded, fund firms too readily approve management motions to augment executive salaries, and too rarely support shareholder motions to check pay increases. AFSCME president Gerald W. McEntee, in a statement, went as far as likening mutual funds to bartenders, who "pour drink after drink for a patron with an obvious drinking problem and no way home."

What mutual fund companies stand to gain from indulging company executives was not clear. Based on straight data extracted from proxy statements, the report identified Morgan Stanley Funds, AIM Investments, Dreyfus Corp., AllianceBernstein and OppenheimerFunds Inc. as the most pronounced "pay enablers."

In a story in the LA Times, a Morgan Stanley spokesperson was quoted saying that the firm "votes all proxies solely based on its fiduciary obligations to its clients."

Meanwhile, Dreyfus Corporation responded to requests for comment with an email statement. "The Dreyfus Corporation follows the practice of Mellon Financial Corporation's Proxy Policy Committee, which does review certain proxies (per the guidelines and at its discretion) on a case-by-case basis," it said. The company does not disclose details of its voting on particular issues like executive compensation except as required by law, it continued.

According to an article in the Boston Herald, an AFSCME representative praised Fidelity for being "pretty aggressive" in opposing pay packages, but Fidelity also opposed motions to limit pay in 98 percent of votes. Fidelity spokesperson Vin Loporchio pointed out that a fund can easily sell shares of a poorly performing company, should well-paid executives fall short of desired results.

Putnam, which opposed pay proposals 41 percent of the time, ranked eighth among the eighteen funds studied, though it too opposed 98 percent of pay plan alternatives. "We think the study's results show us in a favorable light," senior vice president Dan Gallagher told the Herald.

Publicists for American Century, which the report cited as the company most likely to vote against management pay proposals, referred calls to the company's online policy section.

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