Asked about Kilts recently, Patrick gave a savvier response. He reiterated that Kilts’s compensation is between him and his board — but he also made reference to the enormous disparity between the salaries of CEOs and lower-level employees. “I don’t begrudge anybody a lot of money,” Patrick told the Phoenix. “What I don’t entirely follow is the rate of escalation in executive compensation versus the rate of escalation in the compensation of the rank and file, and whether that’s appropriate.”
So far, so good. But when he was asked the obvious follow-up — is executive pay out of whack? — Patrick refused to take the final step. “I think that’s a question people are asking themselves,” he said. “And they ought to be.”
Patrick was even more cautious on the subject of oil companies. Most Democrats love to hammer Big Oil — and why not, given George W. Bush’s oilman roots, the industry’s checkered environmental record, and the huge profits reaped by the likes of Exxon Mobil? But given his résumé, Patrick can’t join the chorus.
It’s not that he idealizes the oil industry, exactly: asked to name his achievements at Texaco, Patrick cited pulling the company out of a consortium dedicated to questioning global warming. Still, while Patrick said he fathoms resentment of Big Oil’s recent financial windfalls, he balked when asked if energy companies might be getting too big and too profitable.
“The short answer is, I don’t really have a point of view,” Patrick began. “I do think the idea of competition is important. And I think the thing to watch is whether we have so few players of such large scale that we don’t really have a competitive marketplace.”
Fair enough, considering Patrick’s Texaco ties. But then he launched into an anecdote about the high cost of identifying new oil stocks. The point seemed to be this: oil companies have it rough, too. And Patrick’s conclusion, when it came, was maddeningly equivocal. “When the price of oil spikes like it has, and big oil companies profit, and everyone else is struggling at the pump, it pisses people off,” Patrick says. “That’s a perfectly understandable phenomenon.”
Coke is it?
Reilly currently seems preoccupied with Patrick’s ties to Ameriquest. And why not? After all, Reilly was one of 49 state attorneys general to reach a recent settlement with Ameriquest stemming from allegations of unscrupulous lending practices. Patrick doesn’t just sit on the board of ACC Holdings, Ameriquest’s holding company; he also wrote a letter supporting the nomination of Roland Arnall, the company’s founder, to become US ambassador to the Netherlands. Arnall, in turn, has been a major donor to and fundraiser for President George W. Bush. (Patrick has refused to divulge his compensation as an ACC board member, but it reportedly exceeds $100,000 annually.)
Last week, when the Senate approved Arnall’s nomination, Reilly issued a statement that essentially condemned Ameriquest as corporate vermin. The statement came from the AG’s office, not from the Reilly campaign, and Patrick went unmentioned. But the point was clear.