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Americans in poll hit ethics, pay of CEOs

WASHINGTON -- US chief executives are unethical and overpaid, according to most Americans surveyed in a Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll.

More than six in 10 people surveyed say CEOs are "not too ethical" or "not ethical at all," versus 33 percent who call them "mostly ethical." An overwhelming majority, more than eight in 10, say executives are paid too much. At the same time, Americans remain upbeat about the economy.

"The shadow of the corporate scandals is a long one," said Nell Minow, editor of the Corporate Library, a corporate governance research firm in Portland, Maine. "That, combined with the natural skepticism about people at the top, is going to last for a long time."

Lingering antagonism toward the boardroom could mean Democrats, who have been leery of being labeled antibusiness in the past, may be emboldened in efforts to curb executive compensation and tighten financial regulation. The House of Representatives in April approved a measure to give shareholders more say on how top executives are paid. A similar bill is working its way through the Senate.

The poll findings reflect "anger on the part of the average American" said Representative Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, who has made reining in executive pay a priority since taking over in January as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

The median compensation last year for CEOs of S&P 500 companies was $10.8 million; the median increase from 2005 was 23.8 percent, according to Minow's group.

A majority -- 57 percent -- say the economy is doing well, versus 41 percent who feel it's doing badly, sentiment virtually unchanged from April.

The optimism spans income groups, as almost seven in 10 of those earning more than $100,000 say the economy is doing well and a slight majority of those making less than $40,000 agree.