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Commentary: Bonus by another name is bogus

  • Story Highlights
  • Brown: Banks reportedly giving "retention awards" to employees
  • She says awards are bonuses, given by firms accepting bailout money
  • Brown says that's wrong, to the tune of up to $3 billion in bonuses
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Editor's note: Campbell Brown anchors CNN's "Campbell Brown: No Bias, No Bull" at 8 p.m. ET Mondays through Fridays. She delivered this commentary during the "Cutting through the Bull" segment of Wednesday night's broadcast.

CNN's Campbell Brown says The Huffington Post has audio of an executive talking about the "awards."

CNN's Campbell Brown says The Huffington Post has audio of an executive talking about the "awards."

(CNN) -- And timing is everything when it comes to cashing in during the bailout.

The soon-to-be-combined Morgan Stanley and Citigroup's Smith Barney will be doling out bonuses to its financial advisers, even as both firms take $60 billion of your bailout dollars.

And it gets better. The bonuses, which could total $3 billion, will be based on the companies' 2008 numbers, which, while bad, will almost certainly be better than this year.

How do we all know this? Someone gave The Huffington Post Web site audio from a conference call where, by the way, a Morgan Stanley executive told them not to use the "b" word.

Conference audio: "There will be a retention award. Please do not call it a bonus. It is not a bonus. It is an award. And it recognizes the importance of keeping our team in place as we go through this integration."

Sounds like a bonus to us.

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The dictionary describes a bonus as a sum of money granted to an employee on top of their regular pay, usually in appreciation for work done, length of service, or accumulated favors.

Semantics aside, the companies have good reason to want to hide the truth.

But in the middle of a bailout, we have good reason to call this bonus -- bogus.

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Jim Wiggins, spokesman for Morgan Stanley, would not confirm the authenticity of the tape, but he did defend their practice of so-called retention programs.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Campbell Brown.

All About Salomon Smith Barney Inc.Morgan StanleyCitigroup Inc.

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