An ABC News investigation reveals that the top three automakers have together spent several hundred million dollars to buy, maintain, and operate a fleet of top-of-the-line private jets for their top executives.
The CEOs of Ford, GM, and Chrysler were on Capitol Hill again Wednesday, but this time they were met with a buzzsaw of criticism following an ABC News report that all three top executives flew to DC on private corporate jets to plead for $25 billion in taxpayer funding.
"It's almost like seeing the guy show up at the soup kitchen in a high hat and tuxedo," said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) at the hearing of the House Financial Services Committee. "It kind of makes you a little bit suspicious."
Despite the criticism, the three CEOs left Washington as they had arrived - on their luxurious corporate jets - a fact not unnoticed by the committee.
"I'm going to ask you to raise your hand if you're planning to sell your jet in place now and fly back commercial," asked Rep. Bradley Sherman (D-CA). "Let the record show no hands went up."
Business ethics experts say that there are plenty of legitimate reasons to travel on a corporate aircraft, but that in this case the CEOs did not set a good example.
"The symbolism of what they do is huge," said Professor Tom Donaldson of the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania. "Corporate jets are a symbol of money. Corporate jets are a symbol of the high life. And when your industry is going down the toilet pretty rapidly, that kind of symbolism is precisely wrong."
And members of Congress agreed.
"The fact that you flew in on your own private jet at tens of thousands of dollars just for you to make your way to Washington is a bit arrogant just before you ask the taxpayers for money," said Rep. Patrick Henry (R-NC) at Wednesday's hearing.
GM and Ford each have a fleet of private jets, with no plans to stop using them. They say it is corporate policy for their executives to travel by jets. Although GM's CEO Rick Wagoner said he might use his $36 million jet a bit less.
"To be perfectly honest," said Wagoner, "things have been so busy, I haven't been traveling a lot anyway."