Why You Should Be Outraged About AIG's Bailout-Funded Spa Retreat

11/08/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What do you do for a living? Do you work for a school? A non-profit? A small business? I bet you're exhausted. You deserve a break. How about a day off? How about a massage? How about an all expenses paid retreat for you and your colleagues to a ritzy southern California spa? After all, you're not paying for it; taxpayers are!

On September 16, troubled insurance giant AIG (American International Group) was bailed out by the New York Fed with an $85 billion boost that gave the U.S. government a 79.9% equity share in the company. Feuding executives, risky financial practices, and a slashed credit rating precipitated the bailout/partial takeover, which neither party in Congress was happy about. Republicans blamed the Treasury, Democrats blamed Bush, and AIG fired its CEO. Congressional hearings were mandated to determine where AIG went wrong. You would think, under congressional investigation, AIG might be extra cognizant of its conduct and business practices.

Instead, it hauled its executives to Dana Point, CA, for a "retreat" at the St. Regis Resort, one of the ritziest in the nation. $7,000 was spent on tee time, $23,280 was spent in the spa, and the grand total for the retreat was a whopping $443,343.71. To add fuel to the fire, remember the whole "no more golden parachutes" promise? The recently-terminated head of the AIG Financial Products group will continue to be paid $1 million a month, on a "consulting" basis.

Barack Obama, in Tuesday night's debate, insisted that AIG's executives should be fired and the $440,000 repaid to the Treasury.

In Tuesday's congressional hearing, Henry Waxman (D-CA), head of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, decried AIG's actions: "Average Americans are suffering economically. They're 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."

That, folks, is our tax money at work. You and I are at the grocery checkout line, putting back items that put us over budget; we're at the gas pump, putting $5 at a time into our tanks, remembering a time when that bought a lot more than 1.2 gallons of gas. And the AIG executives who committed fraud and attempted to conceal their wrongdoings were choosing between the $260 "Hollywood Glow" facial or the $350 "Mediterranean Harmony" massage, in which not one but two massage therapists work on you at once (I'm not making this up, here's the website).

You know, I work for a nonprofit. And several weeks back, we had a staff "retreat"... to a conference room, where we had a great dialogue about different generations in the workplace, enjoyed a delicious lunch, snacked on our favorite candy bars, and went home an hour earlier than usual. We can back to the office the next workday relaxed and energized and ready to be productive. When I worked for a hedge fund a few years back, we had a holiday "retreat" that entailed our boss treating the six of us and our significant others to an amazing Italian food dinner at a local restaurant.

Rewarding hard work is important. But rewarding immoral business practices, greed, and fraud is ridiculous and insulting to those of us whose money was wasted so people who don't give a damn about any of us could have two masseuses instead of one. Congress should take back its bailout of AIG and let that selfish corporation tank like it should've a month ago.