Disgraced Bank Executive Forgoes Salary, But Does it Matter?

The feds tell Bank of America chief Ken Lewis to forfeit his $1.5M salary

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In a development some are calling "unprecedented," Treasury Department compensation czar Kenneth Feinberg has "suggested" Bank of America chief Ken Lewis return his $1.5M salary for 2009 as well as his bonus. Lewis has agreed. Wall Street is furious, according to the Wall Street Journal. Populists aren't quite rejoicing, either: As bloggers are quick to point out, this reduction makes only the slightest dent in the outgoing Lewis's massive retirement package, estimated to be worth $69.3M. So is this "unprecedented" event actually a non-event? With derision of Lewis's leadership nearly universal, few are sad to see him lose the money, but larger questions loom.

  • At Least It's Something "I suppose," muses Tim Fernholz at American Prospect, "it's something of a good sign that B of A at least realized that a public spat with the administration would not endear them to the public." Frankly, he sees more significance in the reaction: "[T]he fact that Wall Street observers were apparently 'shocked' by the move tells me that the financial world has yet to absorb the magnitude of their businesses' effect on the rest of the economy."
  • 'Largely Symbolic,' Reuters blogger Felix Salmon decides. "Lewis’s $1.5 million in salary was just going to be the cherry on top of the other $125 million he’s managing to walk home with upon departing BofA." But Feinberg did all he could: "Since [he] had no real jurisdiction over the big lump sum due Lewis, he just decided to bring the sum he could control down to zero."
  • Good Move, Ken  "[G]ood on Ken," declares the Atlantic's Derek Thompson--"the czar, not the chief exec," he clarifies. "To say Lewis has performed unevenly since the crash of 2008 would be a diplomatic understatement." Lewis, Thompson points out, was "bullied by the Treasury Dept," and, after multiple controversies, "still presides over a money-losing bank at a time when other banks like JPMorgan are racking up intimidating profits."
  • Should the Government Be Doing This?  New York Magazine's Jessica Pressler agrees that Lewis has been a disaster. Still, she's not sure "the government [should] be strong-arming people into giving up their paychecks by essentially threatening to expose them to massive public-relations battles, which is barbaric. Nor should they just be able to arbitrarily decide someone has made 'enough.'" Seeing the Friday morning news "that Bank of America, which still has $45 billion in TARP money, lost $1 billion this quarter" makes her feel a lot better about the move, though.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.