At least a dozen lawmakers have ties to organizations that received federal coronavirus aid, according to newly released government data, highlighting how Washington insiders were both author and beneficiary of one of the biggest government programs in U.S. history.
Under pressure from Congress and outside groups, the Trump administration this week disclosed the names of some loan recipients in the $659 billion Paycheck Protection Program, launched in April to help smaller businesses keep Americans employed during the pandemic. Connections to lawmakers, and the organizations that work to influence them, were quickly apparent.
Among businesses that received money was a California hotel partially owned by the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as a shipping business started by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s family. Chao is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Car dealerships owned by at least three Republican House members — Reps. Roger Williams of Texas, Vern Buchanan of Florida and Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania — received money. So, too, did fast-food franchises owned by Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Okla., a law firm owned by the husband of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and the former law firm of Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., which employs his wife.
Money also flowed to a farming and equipment business owned by the family of Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., and a regional casino company led by the husband of Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev.
Members of Congress and their families are not barred from receiving loans under the PPP, and there is no evidence they received special treatment. Loans were granted to Democrats and Republicans alike, something President Donald Trump’s campaign was quick to highlight when records showed donors to his campaign coffers were among the earliest beneficiaries.
Hundreds of millions of dollars also flowed to political consultants, opposition research shops, law firms, advocacy organizations and trade associations whose work is based around influencing government and politics.
While voting, lobbying and ultimately benefiting from legislation aren’t illegal, advocates say the blurred lines risk eroding public trust in the federal pandemic response as Congress begins debating yet another round of coronavirus relief.