Dear Joe Dear: What Do You Make at CalPERS?

The buttons have been hot in California during the frustratingly slow economic recovery, especially on the issue of public pensioners getting more than $100,000 per year in retirement. Even though six-digit pensions go to about two percent of California public sector retirees, the message, it seems, is that those working for the state should not get large pensions, or salaries, no matter what talents or responsibilities they bring to their jobs.

So, what about the guy who manages the $232 billion pension fund? Joe Dear, who oversees investments for the California Public Employees’ Retirement System was paid $548,142 in 2010, according to new salary disclosures released Tuesday by California’s comptroller, John Chiang. That made him the sixth highest-paid person on the California payroll. Dear’s 2010 salary would greatly exceed that of Gov. Jerry Brown, who will earn $173,986 in 2011, according to the California Citizens Compensation Commission. That, by the way, makes Brown the seventh-highest paid governor in the country. (Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t accept a salary in 2010.)

But CalPERS is one of the largest and most complex pools of money in the world, with a hand in nearly every kind of investment, from infrastructure to stakes in non-public companies, from venture capital to real estate and hedge funds. Moreover, this pension has the largest pool of private equity investments in the (transparent) world, with a $49 billion private equity program, including more than $33 billion in invested capital.

Dear was hired in 2009 with a base salary of $425,000, according to press reports at the time. In addition to his base salary, he could earn a performance bonus that maxes out at 75 percent of his base salary ($318,750). That much he didn’t earn in 2010. As of April 30th, CalPERS reported a one-year return of around 15 percent.

Brad Pacheco, a spokesman for CalPERS, told the Associated Press with some understatement that Dear earned less than what an experienced manager could earn in the private sector. That private sector, of course, includes many private equity billionaires, some of whom have had a habit of late of buying professional sports teams.