Amidst the Coronavirus pandemic and its associated economic upheaval, at least four members of Congress have ties to businesses that have benefited from a forgivable loan program that Congress set up to assist “small” businesses in keeping people on the payroll. At least two of those members — both of whom are Republicans — voted against legislation requiring the disclosure of the identities of the recipients of the forgivable small business loans. There has been widespread concern about the distribution of the hundreds of billions of dollars of money, especially after reports of very large companies getting some while actual small businesses were left out.
The members of Congress who are known to be closely connected to those who’ve benefited from the loan program — referred to as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) — include Reps. Roger Williams of Texas and Vicky Hartzler of Missouri, both of whom are Republicans, along with Reps. Susie Lee of Nevada and Debbie Mucarsel Powell of Florida, both of whom are Democrats. Williams “owns auto dealerships, body shops and car washes,” POLITICO explains, adding that Hartzler’s “family owns multiple farms and equipment suppliers across the Midwest.” Meanwhile, Lee’s husband is the CEO of a casino developing company, and Powell’s husband is an executive at Fiesta Restaurant Group, which initially received $15 million but returned the money after outcry over big companies getting large shares of the funds.
POLITICO notes that “there are almost certainly more” lawmakers who are close to those who’ve benefited from the PPP program, but so far, Republicans and the Trump administration have worked to block the disclosure of recipients. Neither Williams nor Hartzler — the Republicans known to have received money — would say exactly how much their family businesses actually received. Both of those Republicans are among the GOP’ers who helped block a bill in the House recently that, if passed, would have required the disclosure of PPP loan recipients who got more than $2 million — although the Republicans claim that their loans were under that threshold.
Still, it’s clear that well-off Republicans benefited from money meant for struggling small businesses. As Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) put it, referring to Rep. Williams in particular, who is a multimillionaire:
‘If you’re a multimillionaire taking taxpayer money in the middle of the biggest unemployment since the Great Depression, get ready to explain that decision to the American people.’
In Lee’s case, the casino company that her husband runs received loans like “many other struggling casinos” did, POLITICO explains, and “Lee’s office said she had no knowledge of the loans and had no influence over the application.” Additionally, Lee’s “spokesman noted that her advocacy for the PPP gaming fix was part of a bipartisan push by the Nevada delegation.” Since Powell’s husband’s employer gave back its own loan, that leaves two Republicans — Williams and Hartzler — with questions unanswered.
The questions of possible conflicts of interest mirror those that mark Trump’s own administration. He’s never released his tax returns, which would outline who he might be indebted to, and he’s made money off the presidency through government and political group expenditures at his properties.