Washington • The Trump administration remains adamant that recipients of a coronavirus relief package for businesses will remain private despite increasing pressure from Congress and government watchdogs to publicly disclose those who took some $500 billion in government funds amid the crisis.
The latest revelation that some members of Congress themselves took loans from the Paycheck Protection Program — not to mention some large businesses with plenty of cash in their reserves — is adding pressure for the Treasury Department to release the list of recipients.
“I don’t care if it’s powerful businesses, Democrat or Republican politicians, or anyone else — taxpayers deserve to know who got the money so the public can judge if it was right. Give us the list,” said Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah.
Some 4.6 million businesses across the country have shared in more than a half-trillion in federal funds since Congress passed a coronavirus relief package in March that aimed to help small business stay afloat during the recession and government-forced closures during the pandemic.
But little is known about who received the funds outside of filings by publicly traded companies and those who revealed they received them.
Some bigger chains, like the Cheesecake Factory and Shake Shack, returned their loans after the initial pot of money ran dry and they faced criticism for gobbling up funds meant for smaller mom and pop shops.
That number could be higher but private businesses that got PPP loans don't have to disclose that and the Trump administration says it can't reveal the list without compromising confidential business information.
“As it relates to the names and amounts of specific PPP loans, we believe that that’s proprietary information, and in many cases for sole proprietors and small businesses, it is confidential information,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a recent Senate hearing.
Craig Holman, who lobbies in Washington for the watchdog group Public Citizen, said the fact that members of Congress may have received some of the money they voted for “adds a great deal of public pressure for full disclosure of who has received PPP funds and how much.”
“Mnuchin’s argument that there may be some proprietary risk to the businesses if their identities are disclosed -— a very tenuous argument in the first place -— is far outweighed by the concern that there may be improper self-dealing in the distribution of the funds,” Holman said in an email Thursday.
“We have seen this happen over and over before, where the wealthy special interests with connections and influence in government reap most of the rewards,” he added. “That is why transparency is so critical, so that we can be assured the money is going to whom it is intended.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican and chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee, tweeted this week that there would be disclosure of the biggest PPP loans but that there may be less publicly disclosed about smaller shops who could lose a competitive advantage.
“No dispute over larger loan recipients being disclosed,” Rubio tweeted Tuesday.
Editor’s note: The nonprofit Salt Lake Tribune has disclosed that it was a recipient of a $854,800 loan from the Paycheck Protection Program.