Where'd All The Stimmy Loans Go? You're Not Allowed To Find Out.
Hey, remember how Republicans in Congress came up with a loan program to save small businesses that had to shut down because of the 'Rona, and then it turned out the rules were written so huge restaurant and hotel chains were able to qualify for "small business" loans, and people were mad and then Congress threw more money at it? And real small businesses couldn't get loans because big banks bogarted the available funds for their "established" (I.e., really big) customers? That was back in April — in other words, six or seven national crises ago, so you may have forgotten.
Naturally, there's more on that! Judd Legum at Popular Information has the latest on the "$500 Billion black box" of spending for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan program, and it's not a pretty sight. Or it probably isn't; who knows? We can't see a bit of it! The Trump administration has no intention of letting Americans find out where half a trillion dollars in mostly forgivable loan money went, because what happens to our tax dollars is only our concern when it might go to some organization that used to know Planned Parenthood in college, even if they've lost touch lately.
Now, when PPP first got up and running, the Small Business Administration said it couldn't disclose information on where the money was going because it was too busy getting those loans out the door to save the American economy. But the agency definitely planned to disclose who got the loans, just as soon as the economy was saved and the SBA could catch its breath (which smells like chewed money).
The SBA "intend[s] to post individual loan data in accordance with the information presently on the SBA.gov website after the loan process has been completed," an SBA spokesman told the Washington Post on April 16.
But now that the economy is saved and the pandemic is over (shut up, if we all act like it's over and ignore the death tolls that roughly equal a weekly 9/11, it's really over), the administration says nah, not gonna do it, because they've been watching old SNL videos. That Dana Carvey!
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin explained to Congress earlier this month that the SBA will not release the "names and amounts of specific PPP loans" because that's "proprietary information" and "confidential." As Legum points out, there's a bit of a problem with that logic:
The PPP, however, is modeled after a longstanding federal loan program, known as 7(a). For years, that program has facilitated loans to small businesses backed by SBA guarantees. The SBA routinely discloses the recipients of 7(a) loans. You can review them here.
But, hey, the PPP is only modeled on that program, and nobody said the SBA had to do what it's always done, did they? Mind you, if the text of the bill did demand disclosures, Mnuchin would have a very good privacy reason to ignore that, too, and are there even enough months left in this administration for anyone to sue over it?
Remember, the only reason we know about the huge publicly traded corporations that took PPP money (some of which were shamed into returning it to Treasury) is that they were required to report the loans in their SEC filings. Most of the recipients of PPP funds are privately held companies that don't have to reveal jack shit.
If the loans ever are disclosed, in keeping with what had been standard SBA practice, that would probably be very educational for whatever slice of the American public even pays attention to such things anymore. As Legum points out, a law firm founded by one of the nation's wealthiest lawyers, David Boies, may have received PPP funds:
Leaders of Boies' firm, Boies Schiller Flexner, "circulated an email asking shareholder partners to authorize the firm to seek up to $20 million in forgivable government loans," Reuters reports. (PPP loans are capped at $10 million, but some companies have obtained more by applying through multiple subsidiaries.)
Legum notes, just a little acidly, that Boies charges $1,850 an hour, and that there's "no indication that the pandemic impacted his legal work." Which seems a bit mean, because haven't we all been in this together?
Also too, it seems that at least four members of Congress, probably-but-not-definitely more, have voluntarily disclosed they received PPP loans, as Politico reported yesterday. At least it was a bipartisan effort, of the sort people say never happens anymore.
Republicans on the list include Rep. Roger Williams of Texas, a wealthy businessman who owns auto dealerships, body shops and car washes, and Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri, whose family owns multiple farms and equipment suppliers across the Midwest. The Democrats count Rep. Susie Lee of Nevada, whose husband is CEO of a regional casino developer, and Rep. Debbie Mucarsel Powell of Florida, whose husband is an executive at a restaurant chain that has since returned the loan.
And there are almost certainly more, according to aides and lawmakers.
You might recall that the CARES Act forbids top government officials from benefiting from another program, the half-trillion dollar "slush fund" stimmy for corporations. But there's nothing in the PPP legislation to bar members of Congress from applying for the program, though you might think members would realize it might look bad.
Legum says that in late May, in a bid for some transparency,
the House rejected legislation that would have required the Treasury Department to release details of PPP loans of $2 million or more. The bill was brought up via a procedure requiring a two-thirds majority to pass. Although all Democrats and 38 Republicans supported the legislation, it did not clear that hurdle.
Politico points out that William and Hartzler were among the Republicans who voted against requiring disclosure, while Lee and Mucarsel Powell voted with the other Dems to demand it. At some point, even if it's not under Trump, you have to assume the information will be disclosed, though by then some of the people who voted to conceal it will already have nice lobbying jobs. The real point, we assume, is that Trump wants all business records to be secret forever, even when it's not one of his businesses. Unless maybe it was.
And while a number of press organizations are suing for PPP records to be released, arguing that nondisclosure violates the Freedom of Information Act, the Trump administration refuses to budge, because "privacy." Maybe someone should float a rumor that millions of PPP dollars went to antifa?
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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.