Democrat Barack Obama said Wednesday that Republican John McCain may criticize Wall Street executives now but failed to speak out against their huge salaries a year ago, and still backs policies that favor the wealthy over working families.
He accused McCain of acting like a populist now that Wall Street's meltdown threatens the economy. But Obama said that disguises McCain's true philosophy: "The idea that if we give more and more to those with the most, prosperity will trickle down to everyone else."
In fact, McCain has criticized executive pay packages several times in previous years, including at a Senate hearing in 2003 as head of the Commerce Committee. "We continue to see many examples of enormous pay packages awarded by boards to top executives," he said then and warned: "These kinds of excesses are making a lot of Americans angry."
The presidential race is being dominated by the nation's economic turmoil. Both candidates argue they've been the most outspoken on how to respond, particularly on insisting that executives not profit from any bailout. Each campaign accuses the other of having closer ties to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage institutions whose lax credit policies contributed to the financial problems.
At a rally in a ballpark near Tampa, Obama boasted that he introduced legislation more than a year ago to give shareholders an advisory vote on determining the pay for corporate CEOs. He said McCain opposed the idea.
"He's suddenly a hard-charging populist, and that's all well and good," Obama told a crowd of about 11,000. "But I sure wish he was talking the same way over a year ago, when I introduced a bill that would've helped stop the multimillion-dollar bonus packages that CEOs grab on their way out the door."
Obama complained that McCain opposed the bill, which did not become law, and similar proposals.
The Illinois senator also said he "blew the whistle" on big severance packages for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac executives after the government took control of the mortgage giants this month.
That referred to Obama's Sept. 8 response to a news report that the departing heads of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac stood to receive millions in severance payments. Obama wrote to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and the government overseer of Fannie and Freddie to ask that the payments be blocked.
McCain's campaign bristled at Obama's criticism, saying the Arizona senator had criticized management and executive pay at the mortgage companies two years ago. They also pointed to McCain complaints, dating to 2002, about companies' compensation policies.
McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds criticized Obama for picking former Fannie Mae chairman Jim Johnson to help review potential candidates for vice president. Obama ended up dropping Johnson from his team.
McCain also faces criticism for his own campaign's ties to the companies. His campaign manager, Rick Davis, received $30,000 a month from them for years and his lobbying firm continued to get $15,000 a month from Freddie Mac almost until it was taken over by the government, according to reports.