At least four members of Congress have close ties to businesses that have received financial support from a loan program lawmakers established to help businesses impacted by COVID-19, according to a new report.
A Politico report found that two Republicans and two Democrats have ties to businesses that received Paycheck Protection Program loans.
The report identified Republican Rep. Roger Williams of Texas as owning multiple vehicle-related businesses and Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri as being part of a family with agribusiness interests across the Midwest.
The report identified Democratic Rep. Susie Lee of Nevada as another legislator connected to the program, saying her husband is CEO of a casino developer. Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel Powell of Florida was also identified in the report, which said her husband is an executive with a chain of restaurants that gave back the loan it received.
Because no official list exists of recipients of the Paycheck Protection Program loans, Politico suggested there are likely more members of Congress who have benefitted from the program.
“This is the largest distributor of taxpayer money in human history, and we need to ensure taxpayers know where it’s going,” Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota — who authored the bill establishing the program — said.
He added that he had not expected to worry about the issue because “frankly I expected members of Congress to be forthright and transparent to begin with.”
“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,” she said. “If you’re willing to take public money, you should be willing to face public scrutiny. That’s what government accountability is all about.”
Williams has a net worth of $27 million as of 2018 and received a loan for his Roger Williams Chrysler Dodge Jeep dealership in Weatherford, Texas.
In a statement to the Austin American-Statesman, a spokesperson for the Texas Republican said the program was a “lifeline for small businesses desperate to save jobs and avoid laying off employees. In the case of our family business, we utilized a PPP loan like millions of other American small businesses so we would not have to tell any one of our dedicated employees they no longer have a job.”
In a statement on her website, Hartzler said she and her husband acted to protect their employees.
“As small business owners, my husband Lowell and I know the realities of this uncertainty, as well, and took action to ensure the continued ability to maintain the employment of all team members during this time,” Hartzler said.
“That’s why the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was such a crucial element of Congress’ response to this pandemic. American workers deserve the certainty of their job.”
Lee faces a complaint from the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, which claims she tried to manipulate the Small Business Administration into allowing the gaming sector to be eligible for loans, Fox News reported.
Full House Resorts, in which she and her husband have a financial interest, later received $5.6 million in loans.
“Conflict of interest laws are some of the oldest and most important ethics laws on the books,” Kendra Arnold of FACT said. “This appears to be a fairly straightforward violation — Lee couldn’t be any more directly tied to the company through both her own and her husband’s interests, and she advocated for regulatory changes that would, and in fact did, benefit the company.”
“The OCE [Office of Congressional Ethics] needs to thoroughly investigate this case as soon as possible.”
Mucarsel Powell’s husband is employed by the Fiesta Restaurant Group, according to Politico. The company received $15 million but returned the money in full. A spokesperson for the Florida congresswoman said her husband was not part of the application for the funding.
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