AIG spokesman Nick Ashooh has defended the company -- which received $180 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds -- over criticism of its hiring of four PR firms. Michael Weisskopf reports that Sard Verbinnen & Co. "helps to structure statements on the bailout, Kekst & Co. focuses on sales of assets to pay back federal loans, Burson-Marsteller handles controversial issues and Hill & Knowlton fields inquiries from Capitol Hill and prepares congressional testimony for company officials." Ashooh declined to detail how much is being spent on the firms, stating that "contracts are proprietary." Congressman Peter Welch was unimpressed. "That's the whole culture of concealment that's helped some of our bigger financial enterprises get away with murder," he said. Taxpayers, he argued, are "entitled to know how company money is being spent" without information being "dressed up with the benefit of high-priced media folks."
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