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But it’s worth noting that three hedge-fund managers — James Simons of Renaissance Technologies Corp., Kenneth Griffin of Citadel Investment Group and Sears Holding Corp. Chairman Edward Lampert, who also runs ESL Investments — together earned more than the 386 CEOs the AP studied combined. They collectively earned $4.4 billion last year, according to Alpha magazine, published by Institutional Investor.

Hedge-fund managers say there is nothing wrong with such outsized returns because their pay is strictly related to performance and could fall to zero in any year.

The likelihood of a similar flatlining of pay totals for CEOs of public companies is almost nil, however, even for companies with huge losses and dire prospects. And consultants expect CEOs to cite the fat paychecks of hedge-fund managers and the kings of Wall Street to argue for even more lucrative packages.

Writing in plain English

The SEC’s new disclosure rules also required companies to explain the thinking behind their CEO pay packages, describing, in detail, the goals they have set for executives in a section called compensation discussion and analysis.

Mr. Wilcox of TIAA-CREF said his sense is that “some companies are backing into this process.”

“Some have admitted, as they have gone through this process, that they have not had a compensation philosophy,” he said.

The rules also mandate narratives, in plain English, explaining how pay decisions are reached. But a study of the disclosures by Clarity Communications found that most failed to meet readability standards many states require for insurance forms.

“It’s a complex subject, and that’s really the question: Why is it so complex?” said Dominic Jones, Clarity’s president.

“Why is it that a CEO gets compensated in such a discombobulating fashion when the average worker gets a paycheck and can tell immediately what it’s about? … If you’re an investor and you get your [proxy] statement and it just goes on for pages and pages of the different methods used to pay the CEO, at some point you have to ask yourself why. ‘Why don’t I get all this?’ ”