Ensign among top AIG recipients

WASHINGTON -- Sen. John Ensign has been among the top recipients of campaign contributions from AIG, according to an analysis performed as Congress weighs how to recover millions of dollars in bonuses the troubled insurance firm paid to its executives.

Ensign, R-Nev., has received $44,569 from the company's political action committee and its leaders. That ranks him 15th among members of Congress in the study by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Ensign said the most recent donations he received from AIG were during his 2006 re-election race, "a very long time ago, back when they were a real company."

He said he did not plan to return any contributions.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., received a $1,000 donation during the 1997-98 election cycle.

AIG had been considered a heavy hitter when it came to campaign contributions, spending $9.3 million over the past 20 years, and donating to both parties.

Its political activities are being viewed in a new light after its near collapse and rescue by the federal government.

Disclosure that AIG had distributed $165 million in executive bonuses and retention pay after being bailed out by taxpayers set off a firestorm of criticism and prompted the House to pass a bill last week seeking to force executives to return money they received.

Ensign has said it was appropriate for Congress to seek return of the bonuses, but he has not been specific as to how it should be done. He has been unenthusiastic about the House legislation, which would impose a special income tax on the recipients.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, about three dozen members of Congress owned AIG stock, including Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev. A disclosure form filed in May by Berkley and her husband included line items for AIG stock worth $8,978.

Berkley's office could not say Tuesday whether she or her husband, Las Vegas kidney specialist Larry Lehrner, still held stock in the company, and what it would be worth now.

Review-Journal writer Molly Ball contributed to this report. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.