Who is minding the store? Who is in charge of the massive federal resources being poured into failed businesses? Is anybody paying attention? Or is this yet another charade of robbing Peter Taxpayer to Pay Paul Corporation? Is it hoping too much to ask that President Barack Obama not give another red cent to these creeps without some adult supervision?
Unfortunately for members of Congress and the young Obama administration, this is not a teachable moment to educate the angry public about the need to save the corporate big and mighty in order to prevent the collapse of the small and weak. We have heard that story for months now, and all we get is another doom-and-gloom cycle of bad news.
This is a light bulb moment. Most of the people I know understand exactly what is happening when they learn that millions of bonuses were promised to employees of an insolvent company. Angry taxpayers know when they are on the wrong end of the money flow. We're not dumb, and it doesn't take an MBA from Harvard speaking to us in a condescending tone for us to figure out that someone has been sleeping at the switch.
From Day One of the massive bailout to AIG, Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland did not approve the lack of transparency in awarding the corporate giant billions of taxpayer dollars at a time when many of his constituents were losing their homes and their jobs. But, if you recall, members of the Bush administration, specifically Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, told us that we could not allow this company to fail.
When it was reported that AIG officials had sponsored a luxurious spa weekend in California, Rep. Cummings went ballistic. In a press release in early October, he fumed, "It is shocking to the conscience that AIG would take 85 billion taxpayer dollars to fund an executive spa week that included expensive resort suites, manicures, pedicures, massages and bar tabs." Further, he wrote, "If the Treasury secretary allowed our taxpayer dollars to be wasted in this instance, how can Americans be confident that the $700 billion recovery package will be spent any differently?"
Indeed. But no one was listening. Not Paulson, not AIG CEO and President Ed Liddy, who is being paid a whopping $1 for his Herculean efforts to clean up the mess. Shockingly, when AIG went back to the government a few weeks later to ask for more money, AIG officials were planning yet another event at the swanky Ritz Hotel in Phoenix to "motivate and educate" independent agents.
Paulson finally got the picture and warned AIG to stop the madness. The event was canceled. One month later, AIG held another "conference" in Phoenix, where at least eight AIG executives spent their time either poolside or at the gym rather than in any of the official workshops — after having extended their company-paid vacation by arriving days before the event.
Later, in December, Cummings wrote Liddy, asking him to "fully disclose to the public the extent of the payments being made to senior company executives under your employee 'retention program.' The limited information currently available to the public about this program is insufficient to constitute the level of disclosure that the American taxpayers, who have bailed out this firm repeatedly in recent weeks, have the right to expect."
AIG has a retention program totaling approximately $1 billion. Of that, $450 million is for AIGFP (the Financial Products Division that is behind many of the hideous schemes that have left our economy on the brink) and the employee contracts drawn up before Liddy came onboard. The $165 million that's been in the news is just one installment of the $450 million. The rest of the program happened on Liddy's watch. No one seems to be talking about that.
There is a trail of letters and press releases from Cummings in his attempt to "follow the money" and ensure taxpayer money was being spent wisely. For this, he deserves credit. Cummings also introduced a bill that would require TARP recipients to disclose, in a prominent location on their corporate Web sites, how much money is being spent on compensation, corporate travel, club memberships, and other employee perks. Again, he deserves credit.
Now, I don't care to know the names and addresses of the AIG executives who received some of my money nor do I believe any of them will give us back the money. What I do mind is my growing frustration with Congress. Will it ever wake up to the fact that they are in charge of monitoring how our money is being spent too? Will the Obama administration now wake up and stop bailing out corporate giants without proper guidelines on how they will spend our money? And will the Federal Reserve stop printing money to prop up bad businesses under the illusion that somehow our good money will be returned to us without someone figuring out once again how to get their greedy paws on it?
It seems as if no one is in charge. In defending his Treasury Department, Obama invited us to hold him responsible. Since we all know his name and where he lives, that is good enough for me. Mind the store, folks.