In the past week, we Fools shone a spotlight on egregious CEO pay. We've asked shareholders whether the corporate chieftains we singled out really deserve their big bucks, or whether their fat salaries waste shareholders' money. Now that the Dodd-Frank Act has given shareholders the power to vote on corporate pay, this question's more important than ever.

In case you missed this week-long look at CEO compensation, here's the rundown of the companies under the microscope:

Many other companies also shell out way too much shareholder money to managers, while expecting way too little actual performance. We're not the only ones who think shareholders should be alert and angry about this unhappy trend. Corporate governance experts have red-flagged questionable compensation at numerous well-known public companies.

Many of the companies we examined in the last week have drawn "high concern" warnings on GovernanceMetrics International's executive pay scorecards. Others included Janus Capital (NYSE: JNS) and FirstEnergy (NYSE: FE). (Janus Capital shareholders voted down the company's pay policies this year, as did Talbots' (NYSE: TLB) investors.)

As of mid-May, proxy advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services had recommended that shareholders vote against the compensation plans at 239 companies that were part of the Russell 3000 index, or 12.3% of the companies they'd scrutinized. These companies include well-known names such as Amgen (Nasdaq: AMGN), J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP), Gilead Sciences (Nasdaq: GILD), and Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS).

What now?
We've recommended several avenues shareholders can take to effect change, beyond just giving up and selling stocks steered by ineffective and overpaid CEOs. Voting against outsized pay is one option, although many corporate votes have already taken place at annual meetings this year. Contacting your companies' investor relations departments and voicing your concerns about too much pay for too little performance is another option.

Simply paying attention, and discussing these issues in public forums like the ones we have here at the Fool, is probably a great idea as well. For too long, shareholders have somehow fallen into a false sense of security about how their companies' CEOs are spending investors' money.

With any luck, giving this topic a higher profile this year will help make 2012 a better, more shareholder-friendly, more profitable year. It's time for shareholders everywhere to ask whether the CEOs who run the companies they've invested in are really worth it.  

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.