News & Politics

Relieving CEO Pain

It's good to know that our congress critters are not completely obtuse about the needs of their constituents.
Take Senator Richard Shelby. The Alabama Republican gets almost misty-eyed as he talks about the need to provide some relief for an especially aggrieved group of Americans: Corporate executives.

It seems that many CEOs have come to him with sad sagas of having to cope with legislation that Shelby himself voted for in 2002--the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate corruption law. This act was congress's response to the Enron-style scandals that were front-page news back then. So the Sarbanes-Oxley Act imposed some rather modest accounting provisions on CEOs to make it slightly more difficult for them to engage in self-enrichment at the expense of employees, retirees, shareholders, and the general public. The senate approved the bill 97 to zero.

But only three years later--even though the corporate scams continue--the corruption no longer makes the front page, and CEOs have been swarming lawmakers with complaints that the anti-corruption law is too restrictive, an unnecessary burden that crimps the style of the captains of industry.

Now, prepare to be shocked: Since passing the 2002 law, senators like Shelby have gleefully cashed beaucoup campaign contribution checks from these CEOs and their lobbyists, and apparently the checks have softened their hearts. Shelby recently declared that the Sarbanes-Oxley law "may have reached too far," and he is scheduling hearings this year on how to relieve the burden on CEOs.

Meanwhile, Shelby and a majority of the senate have already voted to let CEOs grab multimillion-dollar golden parachutes as their corporations plummet into bankruptcy, even as their employees and retirees are left totally unprotected, and to allow a "millionaire's loophole" so CEOs can shelter their assets from lenders in a bankruptcy case.

Don't you wish that Shelby cared as much about your pain as he does for CEOs?

Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of "Let's Stop Beating Around the Bush," from Viking Press. For more information, visit
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