A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Targeting Obama with Bonus ‘AIG’itation

The American Issues Project, a conservative group, has released an ad attacking President Obama and congressional Democrats for the bonuses issued by American International Group after it received federal bailout funds. The ad is scheduled to run for the next week on a $500,000 ad buy.

Here’s the ad:

It shows a headline saying that "Obama Accepts Blame for AIG Bonuses," which the group’s backup says is from The Wall Street Journal. And indeed, the Journal includes such a headline. But the full report indicates that Obama wasn’t quite so clear:

WSJ: "Washington is all in a tizzy and everybody is pointing fingers at each other and saying it’s their fault, the Democrats’ fault, the Republicans’ fault," [Obama] said at a town hall meeting Wednesday. "Listen, I’ll take responsibility. I’m the President." He also make clear that it isn’t really his fault. "We didn’t grant these contracts," he said. But he added: "So for everybody in Washington who’s busy scrambling, trying to figure out how to blame somebody else, just go ahead and talk to me, because it’s my job to make sure that we fix these messes, even if I don’t make them."

The ad also asks and answers:"Who wrote the law protecting these bonuses? Obama’s own Treasury Department." That’s about right, though the full story is a bit more complicated. As we explained in an article last week, the administration didn’t write a specific law protecting bonuses. Rather, the Treasury Department was concerned that a law attempting to limit contractual bonuses wouldn’t survive legal challenges. So firmer restrictions on bonus pay were watered down in the larger American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Finally, the ad’s contention that Congress "committed to spend $1 billion every hour" requires some explanation. Politico checked (and confirmed) the math of this Republican talking point from Sen. Mitch McConnell on March 11, after the senator said: "In just 50 days, Congress has voted to spend about $1.2 trillion between the Stimulus and the Omnibus," calculating that that would be $1 billion every hour in that time period. It’s worth noting that the government isn’t actually going to spend $1 billion every hour; it will take a far greater amount of time to do that.