Monty Bennett does not actually swim in gold coins. That we know of.

One of the top priorities of the coronavirus stimulus bill was supposed to be rescuing America's small businesses, which is why the CARES Act included $349 billion for the "Paycheck Protection Plan" to help our great small entrepreneurs get through the crisis caused when America had to go into isolation to stop the spread of the virus. The money ran out in like five minutes because the funds were first-come, first-served, and the biggest banks served up big helpings to some of their biggest customers in the hotel and restaurant industry. You see, lobbyists for the hospitality industry got Congress to add in a little provision allowing huge chains to apply for the "small business" loans, just as long as any one location had fewer than 500 employees, which is how big companies like Ruth's Chris Steak House, with its $441 million in revenue in 2019, got to pretend they were a small business. The company got $20 million in PPP loans, though Ruth's later returned the money after public shaming and vague threats of action by the Treasury Department. Several other big greedhead publicly traded companies that took PPP loans have also said they'd return the money.

But don't go expecting any such repentance from Monty Bennett, a reasonably well-to-do hotel mogul from Texas who runs three great big interconnected corporate entities — Ashford, Inc., Ashford Hospitality Trust, and Braemar Hotels and Resorts — that grabbed $96.1 million in PPP loans, the biggest payout yet to a single business pretending it's several smaller businesses. The companies own 120 hotels, and used the now-familiar strategy to score all those loans. Bennett's companies brought in a combined revenue of $2.2 billion last year, but because of the Rona Recession, the hotels have furloughed or outright laid off 95 percent of their more than 7,000 employees. It's all so upsetting to Bennett that he's had to console himself with some great big bonuses, plus huge dividends from his preferred stock.

Bennett himself is a very generous donor to Donald Trump's campaign and various Republican campaign outfits; he's given $200,000 in the current campaign cycle, and gave even more in 2016. As the Daily Beast details, Bennett has also hired two pricey Trump-adjacent lobbyists to look out for the interests of the hotel industry, because he's really public-spirited that way.

We should also point out right at the outset that it doesn't appear Big Bennett and his holding company, Ashford, Inc., have done anything that's in the least bit illegal. Sleazy as fuck, but it's all thanks to the sleaze play that is the GOP-designed stimulus bill.


Building on reporting by the Wall Street Journal and the Daily Beast, Judd Legum at Popular Information has the deets on Bennett's clever exploitation of the "small" business loan program:

According to filings with the SEC, Bennett's three companies have secured $96.1 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans. And more may be on the way. According to a fact sheet produced by the three companies, they've applied for a total of $126 million in Paycheck Protection Act loans.

Will these funds be used to pay hotel employees? It does not appear that way. The loans will be forgiven by the government if 75% of the money is used for payroll expenses, up to a $100,000 annual salary for each employee. According to the companies' fact sheet, "it appears that we will only minimally qualify, and we will have to pay the balance back when it is due in 2 years." That suggests the bulk of the money will not be spent on qualified payroll expenses.

As Legum notes, that's a bit of a change from what Bennett told the Wall Street Journal he planned to do just days ago, when he said "75% or more of the proceeds will be used to bring our employees back to work with the balance to be used to pay utilities, rent, and debt service to lenders."

Bennett may just manage to escape having his TV taken away by Rent-A-Center, though, as Legum explains:

His total compensation in 2019 was $5,668,730, including a bonus $2,340,930. In March, as the pandemic devastated the economy, Bennett paid himself 75% of his bonus, or $1,755,697. The remaining $585,233‬ will be paid out, "promptly following" Bennett's "determination that the effects of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) have subsided, but no later than December 31, 2020." Bennett has also taken an unspecified "significant pay reduction" on his $950,000 base salary this year.

The Journal specified that, actually: Bennett's salary will be cut by 20 percent, so he'll somehow have to make do with just $760,000 until the crisis is over. And he'll also have a quarter of his $2.3 million cash bonus from last year, too! Guess that means no extra cheese on his caviar, truffle, and gold-leaf pizzas, then.

The Journal also notes this belt-tightening measure taken by one division of the company, Ashford Hospitality Trust, which operates little inns like the Marriott Beverly Hills and the Ritz Carlton in Atlanta:

Ashford Hospitality Trust stopped short of another step to shore up his company that at least some hotel owners have made, suspending all dividend payments during the crisis. The company only suspended those for common shares and said it would pay out first-quarter dividends to owners of preferred shares, according to public filings.

That would be the division of the company that paid Bennett and his father over $2 million in quarterly dividends as the pandemic began, although it was "50% less than the amount they were owed," so why aren't you proles thanking the Bennetts for their sacrifice instead of making them out to be greedheads?

You'll all be delighted to know that Mr. Bennett wrote a very sincere blog post on Medium about why he feels entitled to get a big paycheck from the government for all his pain. In his essay "Why Millionaires Are Small Businesses (And So Can You!)," Bennett explains he worked hard to have his father's hotel company handed to him, and for another thing, it's actually the worst sort of discrimination for Congress to prefer "small" businesses over big ones:

Some politicians are too concerned whether proposed government programs help small businesses rather than "big business," or individuals instead of "corporations." They seem terrified they'll be accused of "bailing out" an industry or certain companies. Is it preferable for a large business like Marriott to lay off hundreds of thousands of workers so we can say we helped only small businesses?

Mind you, he wrote that before the later company announcement that his company won't be hiring back any employees, but he still deserves his share of your money, and you know why? America failed to protect him from the China Bomb in his head:

This crisis was caused by either the purposeful or negligent actions of a semi-hostile foreign nation. This is not a normal market condition.

Even worse, some stupid law passed in 1976 won't even let Bennett sue foreign governments for making bio-war on him, and how fair is that? Clearly, the Feds have been plotting with the commies to screw him for nearly 45 years!

Why is Washington protecting the Chinese? Why am I allowed to legally pursue an American citizen or company, but the Chinese government is off-limits? Why does Washington care more about a communist regime than it does about its own citizens?

Bennett is probably also very upset that he can't sue God for allowing a worldwide pandemic. What sort of Supreme Being would allow children to die and hoteliers to have a really crappy balance sheet?

In a stirring cri de privilège, Bennett declares that he will not be silenced just because he has millions to spend on lobbyists:

I'm proud of our accomplishments, of the hotels I've bought and built, and of the thousands of folks I've hired who have become like family to me. I won't apologize for being a capitalist in America, or for being reasonably successful at it. But even a capitalist system with companies only and no government backstop does not work.

Again, he apparently has no plans to hire back his like-family employees, but please give him more money, please.

Now, you might think that Stephen Mnuchin's call for big publicly traded companies to give back their "small business" loans might have inspired Bennett to rethink taking $96 million from PPP, but you clearly weren't paying attention here. Bennett's trio of companies announced in a statement yesterday that it's their money and you can't have it back:

Media concerns over our receipt of PPP funds are misplaced. The PPP program was specifically designed to help companies like ours as part of the national objective of shoring up businesses and getting people back to work.

And no, it's none of your business who exactly will be working, maybe they'll just use the money as they see fit and pay the loans back with very low interest. Why do you hate success, huh?

[Popular Information / Wall Street Journal / Daily Beast / AP / Monty Bennett at Medium]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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