Top executives' taking home huge sums of money as their companies ran aground has sparked a visceral protest throughout the country and motivated shareholders to attempt to have some say in compensation practices. The first proxy measures asking U.S. companies to allow a so-called say on pay came up in 2006. This year, shareholders at more than 20 U.S. companies voted on executive pay, and that number could surge now that Congress seems likely to pass a law requiring all public companies to give shareholders a nonbinding vote on executive compensation.

Business groups are lobbying hard against the legislation, but a look across the Atlantic, where big U.K. companies have had such votes since 2003, suggests letting shareholders weigh in on pay might not be such a big deal.

A recent paper by Harvard professors Fabrizio Ferri and David Maber concluded that advisory votes in the U.K. have resulted in changes that make CEOs' compensation more sensitive to poor company performance, but that say on pay has made "no change in the level and growth rate of CEO pay."

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Susan Kelly

Susan Kelly is a business journalist who has written for Treasury & Risk, FierceCFO, Global Finance, Financial Week, Bridge News and The Bond Buyer.