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April’s Highlights (and Lowlights) in Executive Compensation

Every day, Michelle Leder and the crew at Footnoted.com scour Securities and Exchange Commission filings for highlights and lowlights in executive compensation. Once a month, she joins us to discuss some of their top finds. As we discuss in the accompanying video, April showered a host of benefits on executives at a couple of companies that are making repeat appearances in our monthly round-up.

Pension Prescription at Medicis. Time was, pensions were an instrument designed to ensure that comparatively low-paid rank-and-file workers at large companies could enjoy a dignified retirement. But that was last century. Today, as many companies reduce or cut pensions entirely in favor of defined contribution plans like 401(K)s, other firms are boosting pension plans for top executives. Take Medicis. The pharmaceutical company revealed in a filing that that CEO Jonah Shacknai is the beneficiary of a new executive pension plan that provides him with $13.1 million in benefits. Footnoted.com notes that "the benefits don't vest fully for five more years, but that's not a long time to wait for a multi-million dollar nest egg." And, of course, the generous pension benefits come on top of regular salaries and bonuses. As Footnoted.com reports: "the proxy notes that the board's rationale for creating the executive pension include some familiar tropes: attracting and retaining talent, the maturation of the business, and letting executives build 'meaningful financial security."

Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? At Steve Madden, the well-known shoe company, the answer is: on the corporate board. John L. Madden, the brother of company founder Steve Madden, is a member of the company's board of directors. In 2011, Footnoted.com reports, he received $1.6 million in compensation from the company, up 33 percent from 2010. The high compensation wasn't merely for showing up at the four regularly scheduled meetings. No, in addition, the company paid consulting fees to a company controlled by John Madden.

Chesapeake Continues to Gush. Compensation for directors and insider, that is. The natural gas company has been under the microscope recently for the many unusual financial arrangements that CEO Aubrey McClendon has engaged in. As Footnoted.com reports, the company's preliminary proxy yielded some interesting nuggets. To wit: Chesapeake's directors received average compensation of $533,163 in 2011. CEO McClendon agreed to reimburse the company $650,000 "related to his personal use of the Company aircraft in 2011." McClendon's compensation and perks include: "$121,570 in personal security; sporting-event tickets (and other unspecified benefits) with an undisclosed value; and $250,000 in "personal accounting support" provided by Chesapeake employees." Nice work if you can get it.

Daniel Gross is economics editor at Yahoo! Finance

Follow him on Twitter @grossdm; email him at grossdaniel11@yahoo.com