Trump donors among early recipients of coronavirus loans

WASHINGTON (AP) – Up to $ 273 million in federal coronavirus aid has been awarded to more than 100 companies owned or operated by major donors to President Donald Trump’s election efforts, according to Associated Press analysis federal data.

Many were among the first to be approved for a loan in early April, when the administration struggled to get the loan program started. And only eight companies had to wait until early May to get the help, according to the AP data review released on Monday.

Businesses linked to Trump have gotten the help through the Paycheck Protection Program, which extends a lifeline for small businesses struggling to weather the pandemic. Fast food chains like Muy Brands, oil and gas companies and white-collar businesses have all secured more than $ 659 billion in low-interest commercial loans that will be forgiven if the money is used. for payroll, rent and other similar expenses.

In total, Trump supporters who run these companies have paid at least $ 11.1 million since May 2015 to Trump’s campaign committees, the Republican National Committee and America First Action, a super PAC that has been endorsed by Trump. , according to the AP review. Each donor gave at least $ 20,000.

There is no evidence that companies have received favorable treatment because of their ties to Trump, and companies represent only a fraction of the overall spending under the program.

But the distribution of financial aid has come under intense scrutiny after the Trump administration initially refused to reveal which companies received loans, only to relent under growing bipartisan pressure from Congress. On Monday, the Treasury Department released the names of companies that received loans greater than $ 150,000, although they did not release specific dollar figures and instead gave ranges for the dollar value of. ugly.

Among the beneficiaries named on Monday was the conservative NewsMax website, which was approved for a loan of up to $ 5 million on April 13, the data showed. NewsMax CEO Christopher Ruddy has donated $ 525,000 to political committees supporting Trump, according to records. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Muy Brands, a San Antonio, Texas-based company that operates Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Wendy’s franchises, has been approved for a loan worth between $ 5 million and $ 10 million. Its owner, James Bodenstedt, has donated $ 672,570 to Trump since 2016, according to records. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

M Crowd Restaurant Group, based in Irving, Texas, which owns 27 Texas restaurants, including the Mi Cocina chain, has been approved for between $ 5 million and $ 10 million. Ray Washburne, one of the founders of the company, was vice chairman of the Trump Victory Committee in 2016 and donated $ 100,000 to PAC last August. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

“The PPP has been a huge success and saved 51 million American jobs, including at the former law firm of Joe Biden and many companies associated with Obama administration alumni,” the door said. word of the Trump campaign, Samantha Zager. “When the rent or the mortgage was due, tens of millions of Americans continued to receive paychecks because of President Trump’s leadership.”

Government watch groups say they have little faith in the administration overseeing the program, noting that Trump has ousted many inspectors general and has largely resisted efforts to increase transparency.

“When you don’t have the proper safeguards, such as timely disclosure and effective inspectors general, then all of these things seem more suspicious and raise more questions,” said Larry Noble, former general counsel for the Election Commission. federal. “When you see these people getting help quickly and having contributed to the campaign, it’s going to raise questions.”

Companies generally must have fewer than 500 workers to be eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program. About $ 130 billion has not been claimed by the end of the June 30 application deadline.

With the money still available, Congress voted to extend the program just as it expired, setting a new date for August 8.

The public may never know the identity of more than 80% of the nearly 5 million beneficiaries to date, as the administration has refused to disclose details of loans under $ 150,000 – the vast majority of borrowers .

This secrecy sparked legal action by a group of news agencies, including the PA.

Yet the release of the data is the most comprehensive look at program beneficiaries to date.

And Trump’s donors aren’t the only people with ties to the president to have benefited.

The Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in New Jersey, named after the son-in-law and grandfather of Trump adviser Jared Kushner, was approved for a loan in the range of $ 1 million to $ 2 million on April 5. Jared Kushner’s Parents’ Family Foundation supports the school, NBC News reported.

Kasowitz Benson Torres, the law firm founded by longtime Trump personal lawyer Marc Kasowitz, has been approved for a loan worth between $ 5 million and $ 10 million.

Transportation secretary Elaine Chao’s family business, Foremost Maritime Co., has been approved for a loan worth between $ 350,000 and $ 1 million. She is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

According to Patrick’s senior advisor Sherry Sylvester, the broadcasting company Patrick Broadcasting, which is owned by Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a hot conservative and former radio host, received a loan of $ 179,000. Patrick is the Texas president of Trump’s presidential campaign.

The money was used to cover the payroll and expenses of 13 employees.

“The loan did not cover his salary, but he was able to save the jobs of all of his employees, many of whom have been with him for decades,” Sylvester said.

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Kastanis reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writer Dee-Ann Durbin in Ann Arbor, Michigan, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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