Companies with family ties to at least four Congress members have received small business loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, and critics suspect there’s more — but the Trump administration’s resisting making the list public.
Congress started the PPP in March as part of the CARES Act coronavirus relief package in order to help employers cover the cost of payroll, rent, and other expenses, but after the initial $349 billion quickly ran out, lawmakers injected another $320 million into the program in April. So far, the government has approved $512 billion in loans to more than 4.5 million businesses, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The four members who’ve confirmed receiving the loans are Republican Reps. Roger Williams of Texas and Vicky Hartzler of Missouri, as well as Democratic Reps. Susie Lee of Nevada and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida, according to Politico. Only the company tied to Mucarsel-Powell has returned the loan so far.
Mucarsel-Powell’s husband is an executive at the Florida-based Pollo Tropical restaurant chain, whose parent company, Fiesta, received $15 million in PPP loans, as the Miami Herald reported in April. The company later returned those loans amid a backlash against larger companies, such as Shake Shack and the Los Angeles Lakers, applying for and receiving loans meant for true small businesses.
Lee lobbied for changes to the PPP to help the gaming industry, and afterward, the casino company where her husband serves as chief executive received $5.6 million in two PPP loans, the Daily Beast reported last week.
The family of Williams — one of the richest members of the House with a net worth of nearly $28 million as of last year — owns a chain of auto dealerships, one of which reportedly employs his wife and received an “undisclosed sum” in a loan through the PPP, according to the Dallas Morning News. Hartzler’s family owns “multiple farms and equipment suppliers across the Midwest,” Politico said, and an undisclosed number of businesses owned by Hartzler and her husband received undisclosed sums of loan money, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune.
We only know this, however, because these four fessed up to taking the money: There’s nothing in the legislation mandating transparency from the people receiving the loans, and the Trump administration so far hasn’t handed it over. (Aides and lawmakers told Politico that there are “almost certainly more” lawmakers who have ties to companies that took the money.)
Last month, both Lee and Mucarsel-Powell voted for a bill introduced by Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota that would have required disclosure from some companies, while Hartzler and Williams opposed it. The bill failed to get the required two-thirds majority for passage.
On Monday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he would speak with the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship to “to strike the appropriate balance for proper oversight of #ppploans and appropriate protection of small business information.”
Last month, Democratic Rep. Katie Porter of California introduced a bill to make all PPP loans transparent. The bill has 20 cosponsors so far.
“The PPP is the last line of defense for millions of American workers facing the prospect of unemployment, and a lifeline for millions more hoping to be rehired in the near future,” Porter said in a statement, which referred specifically to Williams’ family’s loan. “Unfortunately, we have extensive evidence that wealthy corporations, with executives making millions of dollars, are getting these loans. Full transparency of PPP data is the only way to quickly and fairly show who is using this program to line their pockets.”
Cover: Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, listens to testimony from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin during a hearing with the House Financial Services Committee, Thursday, July 12, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)