Does McCain really oppose golden parachutes?

John McCain's commitment to his recent rhetoric on the economy seems shaky, especially given the identity of one of his top surrogates.

Published September 16, 2008 9:36PM (EDT)

The political world is, for a reason I don't fully understand, captivated by some comments Carly Fiorina made Tuesday. Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and now a senior advisor to John McCain, is a very legitimate subject of discussion, but for other reasons entirely.

The attention given to Fiorina on Tuesday started when, during a radio interview, she was asked if she thinks Sarah Palin is qualified to run a major company. "No, I don't," Fiorina responded. "But you know what? That's not what she's running for. Running a corporation is a different set of things." Fiorina later dug herself in deeper when she said the same thing about John McCain, Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

This is the type of mini-scandal that dominates the race these days, sadly. In the meantime, going practically unremarked upon is the much more important way in which Fiorina is currently undermining the McCain camp's message. Fortunately, ABC News' Lisa Chinn and Jennifer Parker stepped into the void on Tuesday morning with a blog post in which they noted that the promises McCain and Palin have made over the past two days about how they'll fix the economy are thrown into question simply by the presence of Fiorina inside their campaign.

As Chinn and Parker noted, on the trail on Monday, McCain said, "We are going to reform the way Wall Street does business and put an end to the greed that has driven our markets into chaos. We will stop multimillion dollar payouts to CEO's who have broken the public trust. We will put an end to running Wall Street like a casino. We will make businesses work for the benefit of their shareholders and employees."

And Palin, for her part, said, "We are going to reform the way Wall Street does business and stop multimillion dollar payouts and golden parachutes to CEOs who break the public trust."

But when Fiorina was deposed as head of HP after overseeing a decline in the value of the company's stock, she walked away with a nice little chunk of change valued, by different estimates, at $21 million or $42 million. In doing so, she became a symbol of the kind of payouts McCain and Palin were speaking out against.

But McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said he didn't see the relevance of Fiorina's history. "We're talking about Freddie and Fannie and CEOs like Jimmy Cayne of Bear Stearns, Angelo Mazillo at Countrywide, folks that are largely responsible for what happened and walk away with this kind of multimillion dollar payout," Rogers said. "I don't think there's any analogy there."

ABC's Chinn and Parker also asked how, exactly, McCain plans to deliver on his reform promises. The answer wasn't all that encouraging. Chinn and Parker write:

The McCain campaign was asked by ABC News to clarify what a McCain administration would do to "stop multimillion dollar payouts" to CEOs.

McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said McCain supports allowing company shareholders to vote on CEO compensation. However it's unclear how any president could enforce such a measure within a private company.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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2008 Elections Carly Fiorina John Mccain R-ariz.