Representative Richard Neal spoke at a “centennial celebration” for insurance giant AIG on Monday as lawmakers and executives from the company once bailed out by the federal government toasted AIG for its 100 years in business.
The celebration, held in the House Ways and Means Committee’s hearing room on Capitol Hill, attracted AIG executives as well as a bipartisan group of lawmakers, and included an open bar and a cappella singers, according to Politico, which first reported on the details of the AIG-hosted event.
“On this occasion of the centenary of this company, we’re all happy to be part of this birthday celebration,” Neal said, according to the Politico report.
In a statement to the Globe, Neal spokesman William Tranghese said the House Ways and Means chair “made a brief appearance at the event and gave informal welcoming remarks,” and was not the host.
“During his time in Congress, Chairman Neal has served as a watchdog of the financial sector for good reason: to ensure that investments made with American tax dollars will never again be wasted,” Tranghese said.
Aaron Scherb, director of legislative affairs for Common Cause, a national nonpartisan watchdog, said such events are not uncommon nor illegal, and the organizations that host them, not taxpayers, pay for food and drinks.
“However, the perception is often that these trade associations or companies are buying influence or creating goodwill among congressional offices, and we’re worried what that can do to public confidence in government,” Scherb said.
The celebration inside the committee room drew sharp words from Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, a Democrat challenging Neal in next year’s primary, who slammed the event on Twitter, calling it “insulting” given AIG’s role in the 2008 financial crisis.
“After the American people bailed out AIG, it’s insulting to watch Democrats and Republicans alike enthusiastically celebrate such exploitation with toasts and jokes,” Morse wrote.
AIG essentially insured risky mortgage-backed financial products that were central to the housing market collapse. The insurer was approved for a $182 billion bailout in 2008 by the federal government as it faced a bankruptcy that threatened the wider US economy.
AIG repaid the bailout money in full by 2013, but it still faces criticism from those who say its executives were not held accountable for their role in creating the crisis that shook the economy, costing millions of jobs and sending foreclosure rates skyrocketing.