Marketplace Scratch Pad

Hidden perks

Scott Jagow Dec 28, 2009

It’s amazing the things you can find in SEC filings. One website exists solely for this purpose — Tonight on Marketplace, we’ll be talking with the website’s driving force, Michelle Leder. She’s holding a contest to choose the worst SEC footnote of 2009.

You can vote here, but leading the polls so far is a disclosure by Chesapeake Energy that it paid $12.1 million for the CEO’s antique map collection. I’m sure shareholders loved that one.

Also popular – Martha Stewart got a $3 million retention bonus to stay at her own company, Martha Steward Omnimedia. Yes, you read that correctly.

Freddie Mac, which has taken more than $50 billion in government aid, hired a new CFO and gave him a $1.95 million signing bonus. Leder explains:

Leder: I mean, this isn’t the Yankees here. This is a company that’s in deep trouble.

Bob Moon: Where are the shareholders in all this, though? Any pushback from them?

Leder: Not really. You have to dig through the SEC filings to find this. Needless to say, the companies aren’t exactly putting out press releases and touting this anywhere.

Last year’s winner was a company that decided it wasn’t cost effective to lease an airplane anymore. It had been using it to get back and forth to fish camp in Canada:

With the termination of the lease on the airplane, it also became increasingly difficult and cost prohibitive to access our Canadian fish camp. Consequently, the fish camp, which was only used for business entertainment purposes, was offered for sale during 2008. The only offer to purchase the fish camp came from Terry L. Haines, our former Chief Executive Officer and President. Ultimately we negotiated with Mr. Haines to sell the fish camp for a purchase price of $55,000 and the transaction closed during fiscal year 2009.

A couple years ago, the winner was Qwest for allowing its CEO to use the company jet to get his stepdaughter to high school:

As the Rocky Mountain News reported, the stepdaughter attends high school in California and Qwest is based in Denver. “The amendment reflects a great appreciation for his family situation as his daughter wraps up her current schooling in California,” Qwest spokesman Bob Toevs told the newspaper. Whether Toevs was able to say that with a straight face is open to debate.

My guru on all things corporate jet-related estimates that this perk could cost Qwest as much as $600K, assuming normal charter rates for the Falcon 2000. “Wish I could have gone to high school like this,” he writes. As for me, it certainly beats the B-64 bus that I used to take to high school.

Like I said – the gems you find in SEC filings. Thanks, Michelle!

Hear more from her tonight on Marketplace.

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