A new trove of data has revealed that politicians and some of Washington’s top lobbying firms benefited from the US government programme to help small businesses during the pandemic.
At least four congressional representatives — Republican lawmakers from Pennsylvania and Missouri and two from Oklahoma — have equity stakes in businesses that received funding from the $520bn Paycheck Protection Program, which offers forgivable loans to small businesses that kept their staff on payroll during the economic crisis.
Other Republican and Democratic lawmakers — including Democratic congresswomen from Nevada and Florida — have spouses whose businesses who took PPP loans, the data show.
The Trump administration has heralded PPP as a success, arguing that the scheme has saved hundreds of thousands of businesses and preserved millions of jobs since the US economy screeched to a halt this April. But the Treasury and Small Business Administration have also stressed that any business taking the funds must face serious “economic uncertainty” and should not have ready access to other forms of fundraising.
While the political figures, family members and organisations to have benefited from the scheme have not been accused of acting fraudulently, political activists from both parties have criticised the management of the programme, arguing that such groups were not the scheme’s intended recipients.
According to the data released by the Small Business Administration, other groups that were approved for PPP loans include top Washington DC lobbying firms such as the company started by former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, the Ohio and Florida chapters of the Democratic party and two conservative groups that have staked their reputation on opposing big government spending: the Ayn Rand Institute and Americans for Tax Reform, which was founded by Grover Norquist.
On Tuesday the Republican National Committee sent a mass email noting that a California limited partnership, in which the husband of Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, holds an 8 per cent stake, had received between $350,000 and $1m in PPP funds. A law firm connected to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden had also received money, the message said.
“Joe Biden’s former law firm, which he and his family still use for their legal representation, received a PPP loan for between $150,000 and $350,000. So much for Biden’s empty smears that the PPP was designed to award President [Donald] Trump’s ‘cronies’,” the RNC said.
Sean Hannity, the conservative broadcaster and ally of Mr Trump, wrote on Twitter that Blue Star Strategies, a PR firm tied to a Ukrainian gas company that had once employed Mr Biden’s son, Hunter, had received a loan in the range of $150,000 to $350,000.
Republicans have also seized on the distribution of loans to Planned Parenthood clinics. On Tuesday Marco Rubio, one of the main congressional backers of the PPP, sent a letter to attorney-general William Barr, reiterating his request to investigate why multiple Planned Parenthood affiliates had received PPP loans, despite the fact that their parent organisation employed 16,000 people nationwide, and thus was not a small business.
Planned Parenthood has rejected the assertion that its local affiliates must return the loans, arguing that they have separate leadership structures and bylaws from the national organisation.
On the other side of the aisle, Democrats have noted that many Trump administration officials appeared to have benefited from the programme, as had conservative groups and Republican lawmakers.
Kushner Companies, the holding group for the family of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, confirmed that several of its hotels had received funds from the programme. Renaissance Acquisition Company, the charity adviser in which education secretary Betsy DeVos holds a stake, is also on the list of recipients.
Other beneficiaries of the programme include Newsmax, the news outlet owned by Chris Ruddy, a confidant and financial backer of Mr Trump; the Daily Caller, a conservative news provider founded by Fox News Channel star Tucker Carlson; and America Rising, a political action committee specialising in Republican opposition research.
“Trump and his cronies were like pigs at the trough, using the pandemic with Americans 3,000,000 sick, 133,000 dead and tens of millions out of work to enrich themselves further,” Amy Siskind, an anti-Trump activist, wrote on Twitter.