Editor's note: This is the fifth installment of a series examining the investment holdings and affiliations of the likely 2008 presidential candidates. Click here for our stories on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sen. John McCain, Sen. Barack Obama and Rudy Giuliani.
Legislation aimed at reining in excessive compensation for corporate executives is winding its way through Congress, but the so-called "say on pay" bill has been greeted with silence from one key lawmaker: Connecticut senator and Democratic presidential candidate Christopher Dodd.
The measure, designed to give shareholders a nonbinding advisory vote on their company's compensation plan, has passed in the House of Representatives by a wide margin, but it has no counterpart in the Senate, where Dodd serves as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee while running for his party's nomination for the presidency in 2008.
"Senator Dodd has not taken a position on that specific bill yet but has expressed concern on certain executive pay packages and the growing gap between those executives and other Americans who are working harder and still not making enough to make ends meet," says Beneva Schulte, communications director for Dodd's presidential campaign.
Dodd has a close personal connection to the compensation issue. His wife, known professionally as Jackie Marie Clegg, served on the compensation committee of the board of directors at
( BBI) in 2004. That year, the movie-rental company's chairman and CEO, John Antioco, was compensated in cash and stock valued at $33.8 million, while Blockbuster's stock tumbled 12% and it recorded a loss of $1.2 million for the year.
"If Blockbuster were a movie, it would be an expensive flop," said shareholder advisory firm Glass Lewis & Co. in a 2005 report. It noted that "management has taken home more than $75 million while the stock has dropped by 58% over the last three years," and it gave Blockbuster's compensation policy an F-grade on Clegg's watch.
In addition to Dodd's Senate salary, which was $162,100 in 2006, Clegg's director fees from her work at several public companies, along with her investment portfolio, have been a big part of her family's income for years, according to public filings.
While Dodd's financial portfolio last year amounted to holdings in a mutual fund and the Senate Federal Credit Union at a maximum combined value of $65,000, Clegg's holdings are more extensive. So, in the latest installment of
review of the financial holdings and Wall Street affiliations of 2008 presidential candidates, the investments and business dealings of Dodd's would-be First Lady figure prominently.
Clegg, the former vice chairwomen of the U.S. Export-Import bank who now runs her own consulting firm, hired an attorney to review her business dealings out of concern that her service on corporate boards may create the appearance of a conflict of interest.
"We're sensitive to it,'' Dodd told
last summer. "If something comes up -- we check."
And with good reason, says Alex Knott, political editor for the Center for Public Integrity.
"A lot of people are looking critically at corporations that pay huge amounts to their executives in return for a lousy performance," says Knott. "If Dodd is running for the highest office in the land and speaking out about this issue while his wife has taken part in it and has earned money from it, that's going to raise eyebrows. It certainly warrants further scrutiny."
Schulte declines to comment on Clegg's role on Blockbuster's compensation committee in 2004, but she says, "There absolutely has never been nor will there be any conflict of interest between Senator Dodd's official activities and his wife's career."
Last year, Glass Lewis advised Blockbuster shareholders to withhold board-election votes for Clegg due to the company's shoddy record on accounting controls.
In 2005, a year in which Blockbuster improved its grade on compensation policies to a C, Clegg no longer held a seat on the compensation committee. Its board of directors was re-worked after the company split off from
and billionaire investor Carl Icahn waged a proxy fight against the company. Clegg remained on Blockbuster's audit committee, a position she has held since she joined the board in 2003.
Blockbuster disclosed in early 2006 that it restated its financial statements for 2004 and the first three quarters of 2005 for a variety of reasons. It also said it failed to maintain proper control over its financial reporting practices in 2004.
"We believe the restatement and material weaknesses may signal weak internal accounting expertise, poor internal controls and aggressive financial reporting practices at the company," said Glass Lewis in a report. The firm singled out members of the company's audit committee for having failed in their responsibilities.
Any shortcomings from Clegg may have stemmed from her workload, Glass Lewis suggested. That year, she collected director's fees of an undisclosed amount from four public companies -- Blockbuster,
( CBOT) and
( JAV). She also disclosed owning between $100,001 and $250,000 worth of shares in
Brookdale Senior Living
, where she has been a director since 2005.
"We believe that the time commitment required by service on this many audit committees may preclude Ms. Clegg from dedicating the time and attention required to fulfill her duty" to shareholders, said Glass Lewis in its report.
Schulte says Clegg remains on five boards and is fully capable of carrying out her responsibilities.
"Right now she is focused on raising their
two daughters, her corporate responsibilities and supporting Senator Dodd's presidential campaign," Schulte says. "She will consider how to proceed with her business activities when and if the time comes."
In addition to shares in companies where Clegg serves as a director, the only other individual stock holding in the Dodds' portfolio disclosed in 2005 was her stake in a software company called Altiris, which was recently acquired by
. Altiris is based near Clegg's hometown in Utah, and her brother-in-law served as its chief financial officer at the time of her investment.
She first reported a position in the stock valued between $1,000 to $15,000 in 2002, the year of the company's IPO.
In 2003, Altiris' stock price more than doubled, and Clegg's stake increased in value to somewhere between $15,000 to $50,000. She sold her position in 2005, according to Dodd's campaign, a year when the company's stock price was cut in half.
Big Wall Street Donors
Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization that tracks money and influence in U.S. politics, estimates that Dodd and his family's net worth is anywhere from $262,011 to $682,000, making him the 78th-wealthiest lawmaker in the Senate.
For his part, Dodd's seat at the helm of the Banking Committee is allowing him to quietly raise big bucks for his long-shot presidential bid, while his front-running rivals for the Democratic Party's nomination trade barbs in the limelight. The five-term senator's top donors include Wall Street's apex investment banks, like
As for the "say on pay" bill, The Corporate Library, a corporate watchdog group, favors the measure.
"Any company that is excessively worried about this legislation obviously has something to be worried about," says Paul Hodgson, a compensation expert with The Corporate Library. "It is odd that Senator Dodd has been critical of excessive executive compensation while his wife has a questionable history in that area, but he is running for president -- not his wife."