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04:16 AM
Greg MacSweeney
Greg MacSweeney
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I Want a Say, or Maybe Not

For years, those of us in some of the most populated states - New York, and New Jersey, to name two - complained that we had little say in the selection of presidential candidates because our primary elections were so late in the primary cycle. We argued that it was unfair that the presidential candidates were selected by residents of states - New Hampshire (1.3 million), Delaware (853,000) - with only a fraction of the population of the larger states and whose primaries were much earlier. For reference, New York's population is just shy of 20 million and my Garden State has almost 9 million inhabitants. (Go ahead, laugh it up - my exit is 153 on the Parkway.)

Thanks to legislation, the presidential primaries for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have been moved to Super Tuesday - Feb. 5. Great! We now have a say in who will be on the ballot in November 2008. But be careful what you wish for, my fellow New Jerseyans.

Along with the privilege of selecting presidential candidates comes the burden of being subjected to billions of dollars worth of campaign attack ads. Until now, most tri-state area residents were shielded from the brunt of the slime ads because by the time our primaries rolled around, the candidate was all but decided.

On Wall Street, just like the lucky residents who now have more say in politics, investors are looking for more influence in the companies they own. Pension plans, including TIAA-CREF, have proposed that shareholders be allowed to vote on executive pay at Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, Wachovia and Merrill Lynch. In Congress, the House Financial Services Committee is working on legislation that gives shareholders some say on executive compensation.

So far, corporate boards have resisted the extra oversight from shareholders, claiming it will hurt competition and investors will micromanage executive pay. Investors, on the other hand, have witnessed corporate compensation skyrocket, with some high-profile CEOs cashing in enormous pay packages after mediocre, at best, performance. But like the politico junkies who craved to have a say in the presidential primaries, will we come to regret the push to weigh in on executive pay? Will activist investors drive out quality leadership? It's too soon to tell, but if activist investors take steps to smear corporate pay, what is to stop corporate boards from trying to smear activist investors? Careful what you wish for: Executive-compensation attack ads could be around the corner.

Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology. View Full Bio
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