A luxury hotel and resort network owned by a major contributor to President Donald Trump and the Republican Party is returning some $70 million in taxpayer stimulus money after an outcry.
Texas conservative Monty Bennett’s network of companies was one of the largest recipients of funds from the Paycheck Protection Program, touted by lawmakers as help for small businesses amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Bennett has contributed $150,000 to Trump’s reelection campaign, according to The New York Times, and he spent $50,000 to hire two of Trump’s fundraisers to lobby the administration for bailout funds, reported Business Insider.
On Friday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on the Small Business Administration, which manages the Paycheck Protection Program, to review how Bennett’s operations received funding.
Bennett said as recently as Friday that he had no intention of returning the money unless told to do so by the government. But a day later, a defensive statement from Ashford Inc., The Ashford Hospitality Trust and Braemer Hotels & Resorts (Bennett is chairman of all three) noted that the money was being returned because of rules that are being changed “almost daily,” and “inconsistent federal guidance that put the companies at compliance risk.”
The statement said the companies did nothing wrong. It contended the law was intended to accommodate hotel groups by allowing them to apply property by property. The statement also emphasized that Ashford applied for the money in “good faith,” and that it had “no intention of crowding out” other businesses from the funds.
The Paycheck Protection Program, part of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act to bolster the economy amid the pandemic, has triggered mounting controversy as funds have been scooped by major companies, leaving less for struggling small businesses.
Nearly 300 publicly traded corporations collected $1 billion in funds before the first round of PPP payouts ran out in just two weeks. A second round of payments just ended, but Trump officials have yet to reveal the identities of recipients.
The Trump administration has asked businesses that don’t need the money to return it. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said last week that large corporations should apologize for taking taxpayer aid intended for small businesses.
Some publicly traded companies — including Shake Shack and AutoNation ― have agreed to return the money.
The loans doled out as part of the program are forgivable, essentially turning them into grants from taxpayers, if the money goes to certain expenses including wages and rent.
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