Banks Spend Big Bucks on Brag Ads

Some of the country's biggest recipients of taxpayer bailout money are busy bragging about what a good job they are doing, with one even pointing out that it has established two regional centers to help struggling homeowners.

There's at least one hitch, however.

JPMorgan Chase, which announced the creation of the two regional centers, won't say where they are located. The banking giant won't even say which cities they are in.

American banks, awash in taxpayer bailout cash, have been trying to boost their tattered public images by taking out expensive full-page ads to tout the number of people they've helped by easing their mortgage rates.

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The expensive public relations campaign is the latest questionable action by banks that are being propped up with public funds.

The PR drive came a day after President Obama railed against bank executives as "shameful" and "the height of irresponsibility" for giving themselves nearly $20 billion in bonuses, despite having managed their institutions and the nation's economy to the edge of disaster.

In recent days the White House also had to intervene to shame Citigroup into dropping plans for a new $50 million executive jet.

Former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain agreed to personally repay $1 million he spent remodeling his office after a public outcry, and New York's attorney general has begun investigating why Thain gave out $4 billion in bonuses to the failing company's top officers while it was laying off thousands of employees.

And Congress has complained that most of the banks that have been given billions in federal dollars so they can resume lending are hoarding the cash or using it to buy other banks.

Faced with such a withering barrage of criticism, the big banks have tried to repair their images.

JPMorgan Chase, which was bolstered with $25 billion from the Troubled Assets Relief Program, claims in a full-page ad in The New York Times today -- which it calls the "seventh in a series" -- that it loaned more than $100 billion in the last quarter. Earlier it claimed to have modified mortgages for 330,000 customers over the past two years. A full-page ad in The New York Times costs $150,000.

JPMorgan Chase also used ads to announce the two regional centers to help borrowers.

Banks Brag About Helping Homeowners

Bank of America, buoyed by $45 billion in TARP funds, advertised that it had modified mortgages for 230,000 customers in 2008.

Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit, whose bank also got $45 billion in TARP money, told a conference earlier this week, "I think we have done a pretty good job. Over the last year we have modified 370,000 mortgages."

The spending on public relations campaigns has prompted fresh criticism from watchdogs.

"I'm not sure banks should be wasting their money taking ads out in newspapers talking about the great job that they're doing, one because they're not doing a great job and two because they don't have the money," Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, told "Good Morning America" today.

Homeowner Gary Robinson told "GMA" that he's been trying to get his loan modified for nearly a year.

"It's frustrating when you hear a bank is telling people they are helping that all you have to do is call, because I have called and that is not true," said Robinson.

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