Vote for the Stinkiest Disclosure of 2009

Reading Securities and Exchange Commission filings -- the documents that publicly traded companies are required to file with the government -- on a daily basis gives you a birds-eye view for what's really happening in America's corporate boardrooms. And despite the sluggish economy, it's still not pretty. Top executives -- even those who happen to run companies that are being propped up by the government or have seen millions (or billions) of dollars in shareholder returns disappear -- are still managing to reward themselves, in some cases very richly.As each year comes to a close, the staff at my website,, which pokes into the hidden secrets of SEC filings, holds a contest in which we ask our readers to vote on the stinkiest disclosure of the year. You might have thought that this year would have been different, with fewer flagrant handouts to executives because companies were in recession mode. But that simply wasn't the case. Here are our nominees for the worst footnote, along with links to the various posts about them. You can cast your vote here through the end of the day Wednesday; the winner will be announced on Thursday morning.

%%DynaPub-Enhancement class="enhancement contentType-HTML Content fragmentId-1 payloadId-61603 alignment-right size-small"%% Here are the candidates:

1. Martha Stewart getting a $3 million retention bonus to remain at Martha Stewart Omnimedia (MSO).

2. Chesapeake Energy (CHK) spending $12.1 million to purchase Chairman and CEO Aubrey McClendon's antique map collection

3. InfoGROUP (IUSA) admitting that the cost of former CEO Vinod Gupta's yacht was really $873,078 instead of the zero it had previously disclosed.

4. Freddie Mac (FRE), which so far has taken more than $50 billion in government funds to stay afloat, handing out a $1.95 million signing bonus to its new CFO.

5. Ross Perot Jr. asking for -- and receiving -- a $1.1 million tax gross up -- that's money to reimburse him for taxes that would have been due on his severance payment -- after selling Perot Systems to Dell (DELL).

None of these disclosures would have been discovered by reading the companies' press releases, nor even from listening to their conference calls, and there's a reason for that. Companies tend to bury this stuff deep in their routine filings, which makes finding such items both a challenge and a treat.
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