Early Briefing: CareFirst Exec Has Exit Pay Halved

* The Maryland insurance commissioner Monday cut in half the $18 million severance package paid to former CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield chief executive William L. Jews, saying the CareFirst board failed to restrain his compensation and the company "strayed significantly from its nonprofit mission."

The 65-page order by Insurance Commissioner Ralph S. Tyler said the retirement package violated a 2003 state law that limits compensation at CareFirst to "fair and reasonable" pay. As a nonprofit health service plan exempt from taxation, CareFirst is subject to government regulation.

* Ace-Comm, a Gaithersburg telecommunications company, said it has agreed to be bought by the private-equity firm Ariston Global. The company said the $19.5 million sales price, less certain expenses, will equal 54 to 56 cents per share, a more than 50 percent premium over the stock's closing price Friday. After the deal goes through, Ace-Comm would no longer be a public company. Ace-Comm can entertain other offers before the deal closes.

Fannie Mae chief executive Daniel H. Mudd said he hopes the federal government's plan will break "the back of a lot of market fears." (By Manuel Balce Ceneta -- Associated Press)

* Rescue or respite? The federal government's assistance plan for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac steadied the financial markets Monday but failed to end concern about the future of the mortgage finance giants.

The plan, announced Sunday evening after an intense weekend of behind-the-scenes negotiations, arrested the steep declines that the companies' stock had been experiencing over the past week. The government's backing also allowed Freddie Mac to successfully sell $3 billion in debt securities, a sign that investors still had confidence in the firms, analysts said.

On Capitol Hill, congressional leaders from both parties expressed broad support for the arrangement worked out by the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve. Senior House lawmakers said they planned to include help for the plan as part a housing relief bill Thursday and send it to the Senate, which is preparing to approve the measure next week.

Still, the companies' condition remained under close scrutiny and even their top officers said they understood that difficult times were ahead. "I hope that we will look back on this announcement and say this was a very important moment in breaking the back of a lot of market fears," Daniel H. Mudd, Fannie Mae's chief executive, said in an interview yesterday. "But it's way too early to say that, and we must remain vigilant."

In an editorial, The Post says given the uncertainties, "Congress should at least reserve the right to take the companies over outright. May it never come to that. But if the last week teaches anything about Fannie and Freddie, it is the wisdom of hoping for the best and planning for the worst."

What do you think?

* A new push in Washington to increase offshore oil and natural-gas drilling has intrigued politicians and alarmed environmentalists in Maryland, Virginia and Delaware, where the ocean has been off-limits to exploration for 19 years.

Energy experts, though, say Ocean City sunbathers probably won't find themselves staring out at oil rigs anytime soon.

Before drilling could begin, they say, Congress would have to reopen long-closed tracts of the Atlantic. Energy companies would have to make an expensive bet on a seabed they know little about. And then there would be a long turning of bureaucratic gears before any oil got pumped.

Virginia especially has shown interest in drilling for natural gas off its coast. But experts say it would be years before any drilling began anywhere off the Eastern Shore -- and it certainly wouldn't happen without a fight.

By Dan Beyers  |  July 15, 2008; 6:39 AM ET
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