October 7th, 2008
05:44 PM ET

Evening Buzz: Debate Night & AIG's Re$ort Retreat

Maureen Miller
AC360° Writer
Hey, everyone.

It's going to a big night in the race for the White House.

Be sure to join us tonight at 9pm ET for the second presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama.  The face off will take place at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.

The format will be much different than the first debate. This will be like a town hall meeting, with undecided voters in the audience asking some of the questions. Moderator Tom Brokaw of NBC News will also be grilling the candidates.

They're expected to cover a variety of topics.  But a big chunk of the debate  will likely focus on the economy.  The Dow took another beating today, falling 508 at the closing bell. 

And, we're wondering if today's development from Capitol Hill on the bailout of insurance giant AIG will come up in the discussion.

Before I share with you what lawmakers revealed today, I have some advice:

1) Ummm, move anything of value away from the computer. You may be tempted to release your anger in a way that could lead to the demise of your favorite vase?
2) Inhale. Exhale.

OK. I know.  I can't hold you back anymore.

Here are the details:

Just days after the federal government helped AIG avoid bankruptcy with a $85 billion lifeline, the company's leaders were throwing a one-week retreat at the St. Regis Resort in Monarch Beach, near San Diego, California.

The price tag: At least $440,000, including $23,000 in spa charges and $1,400 at the salon.

That's according to members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government who blasted AIG leadership on Capitol Hill today.

"Average Americans are suffering economically. They are losing their jobs, their homes, and their health insurance. Yet less than one week after the taxpayers rescued AIG, company executives could be found wining and dining at one of the most exclusive resorts in the nation," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, chairman of the House committee.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, also blasted AIG. "They were getting their manicures, their facials, their pedicures and their massages while the American people were footing the bill," said Cummings.

Then there's the cost of the hotel rooms. "Rooms start at $425 a night, some in the thousands, more than some of my constituents pay on a mortgage payment on homes they are losing," added Cummings.

AIG's ex-CEO Robert Willumstad told the committee he was unaware of the retreat (He left the company just after the bailout) and said it "seems very inappropriate."

But AIG spokesman Nick Ashooh said the retreat has been "completely mischaracterized." He said the event was scheduled a year ago. "It wasn't AIG executives running off for a lavish weekend," he said.

Ashooh said it was a gathering to reward top-performing sales agents, and its was not for the executives.

AIG versus lawmakers on Captiol Hill.
Caught in the middle: you, the taxpayer.

Do you think AIG should have cancelled the retreat?
And, how's your vase or whatever breakables you may have by the laptop?
Maybe you need a day at the spa? 
I would love one. 
 I just think in this economy I should spend my money more wisely, right?

Filed under: Maureen Miller • The Buzz
soundoff (53 Responses)
  1. JRQ

    I have been trying to get my sons money out of AIG since June. They found every reason under the sun not to let him cash in on his Mutual Fund. Even saying he had to be 21 yrs old.

    Now it is all gone. I hope they all go to Jail!

    October 8, 2008 at 1:34 am |
  2. curlyclouds

    Based solely on principle AIG should have cancelled the retreat.

    October 8, 2008 at 12:48 am |
  3. Kenneth

    You know,here I am with the many of others who do work but just to work is not enough.While gas prices go up and the price of food runs neck and neck with it,the poor working people suffer.It is the rich and the middle class who gets ahead in the U.S.A.I am a bricklayer and I dont make but.....15 to 17,000.00 a year.Yet AIG is swamped in cast.Wall-Street and the high class is drunk off of the blood and sweat of the poor under paid working class.What about the teacher who makes 35 to 40,000.00 a year?What of the ones who makes less than 20,000.00 a year?I got lucky on buying a house which is 3 bedrooms at a rate of 18,000.00.The task now is how will I pay for it with less than 20,000.00 a year?Perhaps if I had some AIG funds.....

    October 8, 2008 at 12:38 am |
  4. JC-Los Angeles

    Keep these stories coming, they are wonderful depictions of the horrid leadership that we are now cleaning up.

    October 7, 2008 at 11:46 pm |
  5. Mark Merithew

    I think this is a slap to the face of the people that pay taxes, pay these people to keep their finances and investments safe, and to trust their futures with. I hope they enjoyed their time having their fun, it is unfortunate that they will not face what we are facing daily as we struggle to make ends meet while they live it up, even after they lose their jobs, and get a bonus for failing to do their jobs, get a severance check for doing nothing, when I lose my job, I get an unemployment check that barely puts food on the table and come no where close to paying my bills...hows that for justice.

    October 7, 2008 at 11:44 pm |

    AIG Exec are criminals, they should be charged with defrauding tax payers. Can someone to me how on earth would they be going on vacation when they did not even have money maintain their day and day business matters. Its so painful to hear about stories like this.

    October 7, 2008 at 11:36 pm |
  7. Hoosier in Canada

    Those who went on the retreat should be presented with the full bill for their personal expenses (travel, room, etc) and be expected to pay that amount, in full and with very high interest compounded daily, to the US govt. Failure to do so = jail term.

    Since Paulson and Congress are now right on top of the problem, how about another quickie bill to garnishee wages and all bonuses paid since last year to any executive of any company receiving bailout funds? Once the in-house bleeding is stopped, the govt can pick up other pieces of their failed management strategies.

    October 7, 2008 at 11:28 pm |
  8. LouAnn in Wyoming

    Unbelievable!!! I had not heard about AIG until Obama talked about it tonight.....I was working all day and hadn't gotten to hear any news. I am absolutely astounded, shocked, flabbergasted, stunned, etc., etc.

    October 7, 2008 at 11:23 pm |
  9. Sam from GA

    This is no surprise. Most corporations do this type of thing to some extent. Did you think that the AIG executives would suddenly feel guilty about their lack of moral responsiblity? This is common in the culture of corruption that has resulted from years of political lobbying and deregulation. At this resort they were probably discussing how much money they will save by offshoring their US operations to India next year. If you are angry then vote for candidates who will tax these executives equally and close the tax loopholes that incent corporations to to make decisions that are detrimental to US workers. For the past 8 years I believe it has been the Republican party who has furthered the tax breaks for the rich.

    October 7, 2008 at 11:13 pm |
  10. Jan Gainer

    How can they keep getting away with this. Even "the bailout" had to be loaded with "pork" for it to get passed. These corporate giants have been living on our hard earned/saved money. Then the victims (us) bail them out. They keep spending and we (the middle class) have given up shopping at KMart and Walmart and made Goodwill and other thrift stores our "botiques." Thank your Barack for at least mentioning this (another example of corruption and excess) in the debate tonight and suggesting that this money needs to be paid back and the executives fired who participated in this rip off. So now that our 401Ks, 403Bs and IRAs have been looted, John McCain wants to rape Social Security and Medicare to give these greedy, corrupt CEOs some more money. Recently retired in Wisconsin

    October 7, 2008 at 11:10 pm |
  11. kate

    If I hear Sen. McCain say "my friends" one more time, I'm gonna choke somebody! He's NOT my friend ... he has never had a job outside of politics and thinks he can relate to me and my life??? The man is delusional. He only knows WAR ... and I don't like war. And let's not even discuss his veep ... what was he thinking???

    October 7, 2008 at 10:53 pm |
  12. Brandi-bottom of the boot

    k, nothing ended up broken...lol

    I think AIG should be forced to return the amount of money it cost for the retreat since they were too greedy and completely insensible in not cancelling it!!

    There should definitely be some kind of investigation into this and whether or not the company committed fraud to obtain the bailout!

    New legislation anyone??? Please do this soon to stop corporate America from further destroying the economy for the rest of us.

    October 7, 2008 at 10:48 pm |
  13. JudyL

    While I ABSOLUTELY disagree with this type of corporate behavior; as a travel industry veteran, I wonder if this 'retreat' was booked and paid for in advance ...with NONREFUNDABLE penalties attached.

    No disrespect meant; I'm just asking, that's all.

    October 7, 2008 at 10:24 pm |
  14. Jeni, Evansville

    Maybe it was scheduled a year ago. I, however, would have been embarrassed to have shown my face at this lavish week while my fellow Americans were trying to scrape together enough money to put food on the table. I hope they are prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

    October 7, 2008 at 10:22 pm |
  15. Linda

    I don't care if the AIG retreat was planned for over a year. A leader would cancel it. Who do these people think they are? This is perfect example of the excesses that are totally unacceptable.

    October 7, 2008 at 10:18 pm |
  16. Greg Connett

    Tonight in the debate John McCain did not seem to have a United States flag lapel pin and Obama seemed to have one. Earlier in the campaign wasn't Obama accused of beint unpatrotic for not wearing one? It might be just nit picking but, it will be interesting to see if anyone points out that in tonights debate John McCain was not wearing one.

    October 7, 2008 at 10:10 pm |
  17. Bobby

    They should be left to fail like the rest of the over spending companies. What a waste of the tax payers money. I can't even afford the room much less all the drinks and such. They should not be bailed out or these employees should be fired!

    October 7, 2008 at 10:07 pm |
  18. Fred

    Who is surprised by any of this? Keep looking under the rocks and you'll find more of this. This is how it's done. If Washington politicians enjoy bathing in taxpayer money, why shouldn't corporate fat cats enjoy it as well.

    The people we put in Washington have been extremely poor stewards of taxpayer money. But the fault is also with the voter. It doesn't end when we elect them and ship them off to Washington. That's where it begins. We've allowed apathy and complacency to be commonplace.

    We have the lowest voter turnout per capita of any undustrialized nation. Why not send a message to Washington and clean them all out and elect new leadership? Here's a thought, how about holding them accountable? Why should they be insulated for poor performance? Are we insulated in our jobs for poor job performance, of course not.

    Back to the former CEO of AIG. Of course he knew about the Spa. You don't spend $400,000 at any company in America without the good ol boys at the top knowing about it. They could and in my opinion SHOULD have canceled the soiree.

    October 7, 2008 at 9:31 pm |
  19. Annie Kate

    AIG should have canceled that party – very bad timing and taste during a time when a lot of "regular" people are losing their livelihood and homes. I can believe them having it – corporate management could never be described as sensitive but this is a slap in the face to the Americans who are toting the bill for the rescue of their company.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    October 7, 2008 at 9:22 pm |
  20. Lisa

    They've got a lot of nerve. I would think that after we the people bailed them out they would have enough respect for us to cancel their retreat." Now that we "own" them I sure hope they know that we expect them to cut the fat from their budget and cut the extreme retreats, partys etc.

    October 7, 2008 at 8:08 pm |
  21. debbie

    We the people feel cheated first it was the housing market is correcting then it was a gas shortage and high gas prices now it is the banks that we have been making payment to for 30 years. If we don't pay are bills they come take out house, car, or what ever they want. They made it harder for people to file bankruptce but then big guys can do what ever they want and the little guy pays and pays and pays then they want us to put our money in a 401k in the stock market so the rich can have it too.

    October 7, 2008 at 8:02 pm |
  22. Gary Jaussaud

    Gary's Comment is:

    This is just criminal, and all the people that attended the retreat need to be placed in jail. It just is beyond the average persons scope of
    understanding how people can behave like this. Take money that is
    does not belong to them and spend it, and after our Federal Government gave them over $80 Billion dollars to help bail them out.

    Things like this make me mad, and to think people like Sen. Mc Cain
    would like to give these types of folks tax breaks, it just can't be, it just

    October 7, 2008 at 7:52 pm |
  23. Penny

    This is exactly the conduct that caused their 'needed ' bail out. Did you think they were going to change their behavior just because we bailed them out. Have you ever heard of enablers? It is a family disease.

    October 7, 2008 at 7:46 pm |
  24. Heather,ca

    I know exactly where the St Regis in Monarch Bch is. I grew up in Laguna. I never in my wildest dreams could afford or even justify spending any of my own there. It's just great knowing that we the tax payers paid for luxuries that most only dream of. Its an outrage! But then again they thought no one would find out.

    October 7, 2008 at 7:36 pm |
  25. Patrick of Ohio

    The time has come people. We can all do it if we do it together. The government oligarchy, the democrats and many republicans have FAILED us. Elect out all those that voted on the bailout, replace them with independents. Vote against Obama and McCain, write in ballots or vote third party. Are we really going to let these people getaway with this?

    Our government has failed to fire those CEOs that put us at risk. Now is the time for American Justice. Though our leaders might not be so fast to fire their friends, the American people are wiser than this. Let us fire all the politicians from their jobs by voting them out of their seats, because we realize to destroy a problem we must first remove the head, and we have many heads to lop off before we can fix this.

    October 7, 2008 at 7:33 pm |
  26. Melissa, Los Angeles

    AIG should've cancelled this retreat. How can they reward top performing sales agents (who more than likely duped a lot of folks) when the rest of the company was just bailed out of failure? If we hadn't bailed them out – there would've been no retreat anyway. This government is wrong for bailing anybody out.

    October 7, 2008 at 7:15 pm |
  27. Presley

    Do you think AIG should have cancelled the retreat?
    – Gee, YOU THINK? The Company is tanking, how well did these sales folks do?????
    And, how’s your vase or whatever breakables you may have by the laptop?
    – Well, a pen is now in the hall. My cats took care of the breakables earlier, manic chase time.
    Maybe you need a day at the spa?
    I would love one.
    – Thanks but No Thanks, A day of unadulterated shopping would suffice.
    I just think in this economy I should spend my money more wisely, right?
    – Well, considering we are all going to be broke at the same time, my money is already spent before I deposit my paycheck, I have no spending options.
    Spare a Ten Spot? I need to feed my cats.

    October 7, 2008 at 7:12 pm |
  28. Bret Peters

    I did not pay for that, nor did anyone I know. They should be charged personally for the spa outing and issued a fine for petty theft ! The names and E-mails of these "up-standing" Americans posted for all the public to write them ! That's about fare. 🙂

    October 7, 2008 at 7:08 pm |
  29. carmon

    I cancelled my massage to pay off debt, why can't they? Rewards? Be reasonable, extra expenses should be eliminated for the good of the company to stay afloat, that's just good business! AIG just has a "me first" mentality that will ultimately cause failure no matter if they are bailed out. Evidently none of these employees have a passion for the business they are in or they would have sacrificed this frivilous expense. Should have cancelled?...yea, you bet!!!

    October 7, 2008 at 6:54 pm |
  30. Leigh, Charlotte, NC

    Does anyone remember what happened to the little lady who faced with questions about her people who were starving for lack of bread replied to "Let them eat cake"? I definitely think some heads should role. If it weren't for the debate, this is definitely one for the "What were they thinking?" segment. Of course they should have canceled the retreat.

    October 7, 2008 at 6:53 pm |
  31. Jack

    I'm not surprised.

    AIG should have cancelled the retreat. Yes, there would have been some cancellation fees associated with the decision, but I'm sure they would not amount to almost half a million dollars.

    I'm not sure why we continue to foot the bill for the irresponsible actions of the corrupt and greedy. Why should Americans mortgage their futures and their children's future to bail AIG, Bear Stearns and all the other corrupt, greedy and irresponsible business entities.

    I do not see the need to give them 700 billion when we have not rebuilt New Orleans, Galveston, parts of Iowa and Florida. I can assure you that if that money is put to rebuilding our beloved cities, and fixing our infrastructure our economy will begin to recover.

    Why don't we spend the money where it will do the most good and we will see a return on our investment? AIG and all the other irresponsible and corrupt firms including Enron will never learn a lesson if we continue to bail them out...and we continue to see the CEOs and COOs do a walk in the park, as they rob the average American of not only their money, but their dreams for their families. Is there a reason why the CEOs and COOs are not getting substantial jail sentences?

    Why is the CEO of Lehman Brother's not in jail?

    October 7, 2008 at 6:50 pm |
  32. Terese Towey

    Why would AIG show the appropriate restraint and cancel their retreat? Afterall, Ashooh said it was a gathering to reward top-performing sales agents. Doesn't that call for a celebration?

    How about this, "Your reward this year is that you still have a job"!

    Clearly AIG could care less about the American people footing the bill. This is exactly the kind of thing the taxpayers have been so leary about. Who is being held accountable - and what can the taxpayer do in demanding accountability?

    October 7, 2008 at 6:46 pm |
  33. Paul Betts

    You worried about a couple hundred Grand? Could have cancelled it and thrown more resort employees out on the street I guess. Why not discuss a couple hundred million grand on a worthless piece of space station crap that really solve the economic mess........You guys have a lesson to learn in priorities.

    October 7, 2008 at 6:46 pm |
  34. Terra Hoskins

    Man. Who runs AIG's corporate communications department? Cancel and eat the cost - that's what they should have done. What were these bozos thinking?

    AIG is just going to get shredded for this.

    October 7, 2008 at 6:37 pm |
  35. rayburn

    This is typical of most of the Companies we as taxpayers are bailing out. Stipulation for funding any of the companies should insure that all expenses are trimmed to the necessities, travel budgets are limited to only mandatory travel when tele-conferencing will not work, all raises and bonuses suspended or forfeited, and implement open book policy on all financials.

    I believe the spa trip should have been canceled immediately. It is my hopes that our government pursue criminal charges for this type of behavior. It appears that just like with Lehman, greed has no boundaries even with the downfall of the companies.

    October 7, 2008 at 6:32 pm |
  36. Alex

    With the economy pretty much in the toilet and dictating the topic of just about every conversation, what on earth could John McSame or Barack Obama do or say to change anything? They both talk about change is coming and guess what....change is coming alright, but not the change they envisioned. We might well be electing a lame duck President who will have NO money to do anything. In short, their words will be empty promises not because they don't want to bring about positive change, but because George W. Bush has ensured they're failure. With genius' like Henry Paulsen at the economy's helm, our children and grandchildren's futures will unfortunately be alot less bright than we all intended or worked for.

    October 7, 2008 at 6:32 pm |
  37. Tammy Raya

    Now come on Maureen – I'm sure after all that stress that AIG suffered through before they got their "free pass", they needed some good massages to release all that tension so they could come back and start doing the "right things" for a change – NOT.

    October 7, 2008 at 6:27 pm |
  38. Eugenia-San Francisco, Ca

    Wouldn't miss it for the world!

    October 7, 2008 at 6:24 pm |
  39. Ann from Denver

    This type of retreat is nothing unusual for AIG. I was in Kauai last February and stayed at the Grand Hyatt. AIG was holding another huge retreat complete with lavish private parties. Rooms at the Grand Hyatt started at about $500 per night and went up from there.

    October 7, 2008 at 6:23 pm |
  40. L. Gifford

    Hope you can answer a question for me. What does my vote mean when we use the electoral to deceide our next president? I beleive in voting but I feel that my vote doesn't really mean anything when you get right down to it. On election night most of the polls are still counting votes and that seem like a waste of time when the electoral is the deceiding factor. I hope that you can help me understand why my vote would make a difference.

    L. Gifford

    October 7, 2008 at 6:21 pm |
  41. nate

    Another reason why the 700 Billion Dollar bailout was a bad idea. Could the taxpayers get a reprieve or refund?

    October 7, 2008 at 6:18 pm |
  42. BBOvenGuy

    Wall Street can kiss any further bailouts goodbye. There's no way the American people will stand for it after this news circulates through the media. In fact, I wonder if anyone will try to amend the bailout bill they just passed – can they?

    Some Republicans are saying that McCain should have opposed the bailout bill, and used that opposition to his advantage in the presidential race. I don't know whether or not they're right, but it's a moot point now. McCain has already crossed the line between "maverick" and "flip-flopper."

    October 7, 2008 at 6:15 pm |
  43. Joshua Cudd, San Antonio, TX

    Vase is shatter. Pictures are broken. Children are crying.
    But seriously, of course the retreat should have been cancelled! Do these people have no common-sense?!
    Have fun and live it up at our expense, but just because this crisis hasn't spread to your pristine house on the hill doesn't mean it won't.

    October 7, 2008 at 6:14 pm |
  44. sandy

    shame on AIG....the retreat (or bonus trip for top producing agents) would have been fine if AIG had been able to handle its own finances...but once a bailout came...that is another story...shame on them..

    i work for a company that i have the opportunity to go on such "retreats" as this, however, i do get a 1099 at the end of the year and pay taxes on that trip...so again, if AIG hadn't needed the bailout, that would have been fine...but not now

    October 7, 2008 at 6:11 pm |
  45. Maria

    Salon charges did not matched with Spa charges, they must be bold men.

    October 7, 2008 at 6:10 pm |
  46. Carol

    In Florida yesterday, Sarah Palin failed the entire country when she did not reject the comment "Kill him" toward her opposition, and also express immediate opposition to the racial comments from the audience. She may not control ALL their behavior, but she definitely motivates it. She does not have the judgement or leadership for the position she seeks.

    October 7, 2008 at 6:05 pm |
  47. Kent, Illinois

    Not surprising at all. Exactly why the people of this country will take out their frustrations out on the Republican representatives of their districts that are up for election in November. Whether it is right or wrong the Dems will be the ones that will benefit from this mess............

    October 7, 2008 at 6:02 pm |
  48. chester strecker

    Can any of the candidates speak and answer any question without a script? This is Hollywood acting and not true knowledge.

    Why do they not say what they are going to do for America, if they spent as much time digging out the dirt on digging them out of the mess America is in, maybe their time would be value added. All these people involved are getting paid- to dig up dirt. Politions spend more time dressed beautifully, doing television interviews-getting paid- who is minding the fort? It is grade two inteligence.

    October 7, 2008 at 5:59 pm |
  49. Patty

    Disgusting – just goes to show nothing changes.

    October 7, 2008 at 5:58 pm |
  50. K.D. Oregon

    It is amazing what these people are getting away with. I hope the next retreat is behind bars.

    October 7, 2008 at 5:53 pm |
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