When top officials at the U.S. Treasury Department invested $100 million in Pennsylvania-based First National Bank last year to help it ride out the economic slump, they probably did not think the bank 's executives would be shelling out six figures for luxury seating at Pittsburgh Steelers games.
But that's what happened, according to papers that FNB Corp. filed with the SEC last week. The bank included in its filing a note about last year's $135,000 lease for a suite at Heinz Field -- first spotted by the website Footnoted.org. First National Bank was forced to disclose the expense because one of its board members, Arthur J. Rooney II, is also part owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and thus, a beneficiary of the luxury expense.
Luxury perks and big bonuses enjoyed by the recipients of massive government bailout programs have struck a raw nerve with some taxpayer groups, and have become a rallying cry among tea-party activists. But First National Bank's executives say the company's Steelers tickets should not be lumped in with other recent episodes.
Steve Gurgovits, the Chairman and CEO of First National Bank, told ABC News Tuesday that he understands why such an expense might look bad to the American public, but he wanted to make clear the bank spent none of the taxpayer funds – issued under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) during the final days of the Bush administration – on pricey stadium seats.
In fact, he said, the bank never touched the taxpayer money. It accepted the funds as a backstop in case the economy tanked, but conditions never got so bad that the bank actually needed them. FNB "paid back every penny of interest and principle" last September, Gurgovits said.
As for the Heinz Stadium luxury suite, Gurgovits said the company was partway into a 10-year lease – a lease it signed before Rooney joined the bank's board.
Rooney Family Owns Steelers
The Rooney family has owned and operated the Steelers since 1933. Dan Rooney was a major backer of Barack Obama in 2008, and is now the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. Arthur Rooney, Dan's son, is president of the football club, and a major donor to Pennsylvania's delegation in Congress.
Because the bank's finances never wound up suffering, executives there said they saw no reason to consider renegotiating the stadium suite agreement with the Rooneys.
"It would have been unprofessional and unfair to go to Mr. Rooney and say, how about knocking off 10 or 20 percent," Gurgovits said.
And so, last year, in the midst of the bailout, the bank's executives treated potential clients to Steelers games, concerts, and college football . "It was used very well," Gurgovits said. "We use it for prospects and business development. We don't entertain ourselves."