It's been almost five years since AIG's stock dropped 60 percent in a day leaving the company doomed to failure, when Uncle Sam swooped in with $182 billion to rescue it. But AIG must have a short memory, because on Monday night news emerged that the insurance company is actually thinking about suing the U.S. government over the bailout that saved it. The board will discuss the idea with shareholders at a meeting on Wednesday.
It's not so much that AIG's mad the government bailed them out. (They wouldn't be around to be mad if it hadn't.) They just wish they'd done it a little bit differently. "The lawsuit does not argue that government help was not needed," The New York Times reports. "It contends that the onerous nature of the rescue -- the taking of what became a 92 percent stake in the company, the deal's high interest rates and the funneling of billions to the insurer's Wall Street clients -- deprived shareholders of tens of billions of dollars and violated the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits the taking of private property for 'public use, without just compensation.'" Does that kind of bad attitude count as "looking the gift horse in the mouth" or "biting the hand that feeds you?" Or both?
The timing of AIG's potential lawsuit is a little bit curious. The company just finished paying the government back about a month ago, when the Treasury Department announced the sale of its last batch of AIG shares -- at a profit nonetheless. Then a week ago, AIG launched a rah-rah ad campaign with the tagline "Thank You America" to show just how much it appreciates taxpayers saving its butt.
But that's not the message that suing the government for putting up the cash sends, is it? A professor of law and finance at the University of San Diego told The Times, "On the one hand, from a corporate governance perspective, it appears they're being extra cautious and careful. On the other hand, it's a slap in the face to the taxpayer and the government."