Politics $14M in relief funds find members of Congress and family

15:35  08 july  2020
15:35  08 july  2020 Source:   rollcall.com

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At least $13.7 million in COVID-19 relief funds have gone directly to companies in which members of Congress or their families are owners or employees, according to Small Business Administration data reviewed by CQ Roll Call.

Markwayne Mullin wearing a suit and tie: Oklahoma GOP Reps. Markwayne Mullin, left, and Kevin Hern both own firms that received PPP relief funds. © Provided by Roll Call Oklahoma GOP Reps. Markwayne Mullin, left, and Kevin Hern both own firms that received PPP relief funds.

These companies received funds through the Paycheck Protection Program shortly after Congress voted to disperse $3 trillion in a sweeping relief package designed to buoy the U.S. economy as it endures the coronavirus pandemic.

FiscalNote, the parent company of CQ Roll Call, has also received a loan under the program.

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Two of the more prominent figures in shepherding the nation’s largest stimulus package since World War II have family ties to businesses that received PPP loan benefits.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, held investments in a partnership with EDI Associates and the Piatti Restaurant Company. Both of the firms support the hospitality industry — EDI Associates has an investment in the El Dorado Hotel in Sonoma, California.

According to the SBA data, EDI Associates and the Piatti Restaurant Company received at least $2.4 million. Paul Pelosi’s investments are worth a minimum of $1.3 million.

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill told CQ Roll Call in an email that Paul Pelosi has an 8.1 percent stake and that he is “a minor, passive investor in this company. He was not involved in or even aware of this PPP loan.”

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Polling and research firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research received at least $350,000. The firm bears the name of one of its founders, Stanley Greenberg, who is married to House Labor-HHS Appropriations Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut.

While the firm’s website does not list Greenberg as part of its current staff, DeLauro’s most recent financial disclosure indicated the firm paid him a salary. Neither DeLauro nor Greenberg knew anything about the firm’s decision to apply for a PPP loan, according to a DeLauro spokesperson.

DeLauro’s fellow appropriator, Pennsylvania Democrat Matt Cartwright, also has business ties to a company that received PPP loans. Scranton law firm Munley Law PC received a minimum of $350,000 in funding. Cartwright’s wife, Marion Munley, is a partner at the firm, where the congressman was also a partner before his successful House bid in 2012.

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“Congressman Cartwright had no involvement with this loan in any way,” a spokesperson said in an email. “He also recently supported bills to extend the program into August and promote transparency around where this relief funding is going.”

Cartwright’s office did not have details on where loans were used aside from public data. Cartwright remains a participant in the law firm’s retirement plan, per his financial disclosure, but does not have ownership or stock in the firm, the spokesperson said.

Ethical concerns

At least one government oversight group says loans from members of Congress and their families raise ethics concerns.

“Taxpayers should be concerned if Members used their official position to further their pecuniary interest,” Scott Amey, general counsel of the Project on Government Oversight, said in an email to CQ Roll Call. “Shaping the COVID-19 legislative response knowing that an outside interest will benefit could be inconsistent with the conscientious performance of their congressional duties and a violation of ethics rules.”

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He said members who took PPP funds should be transparent about their involvement in loan processing and how the money contributes to their bottom lines.

At least one member has business ties to money being made off the COVID-19 pandemic. California Democratic Rep. Scott Peters’ wife, Lynn E. Gorguze, is president and CEO of the La Jolla-based Cameron Holdings, which includes plastic molding and vinyl products company Sinclair & Rush Inc. in its portfolio.

Sinclair & Rush’s website says its plants have recently transitioned to manufacturing face shields in response to the pandemic. The company received a minimum of $2 million from the PPP program; Gorguze’s stake in Sinclair & Rush is worth a quarter of a million dollars, according to Peters’ financial disclosure.

Some other members listed direct ownership of companies that received PPP loans.

Rep. Markwayne Mullin has four firms that received loans worth at least $800,000 total. A spokesperson for the Oklahoma Republican told CQ Roll Call that Mullin is not involved in day-to-day operations. Mullin’s wife, however, took a salary in excess of $100,000 from Mullin Plumbing, which received a minimum of $350,000.

The House Ethics Committee has previously cited Mullin for his business dealings. In 2018, the panel called on him to pay back $40,000 to his family business after a review concluded the money he received was out of compliance with House rules and the committee’s recommendations.

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Another Oklahoma Republican, Rep. Kevin Hern, and his wife, Tammy, jointly own KTAK Corporation, which operates multiple McDonald’s restaurant locations in the Tulsa area. KTAK’s PPP loans range from $1 to $2 million.

Another firm owned by Hern’s wife, Custom Seating, which provides and designs furniture for restaurants, received $350,000.

Rolling Republicans

Several car dealerships associated with current lawmakers also received PPP loans. Florida GOP Rep. Vern Buchanan’s Ford dealership in Sarasota, Florida, and Nissan dealership in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, received a minimum total of $2.4 million, the most of any dealerships affiliated with a member of Congress.

Rep. Roger Williams’ JRW Corporation received a minimum of $1 million. The Texas Republican’s own stake in the dealership exceeds $50 million, according to his financial disclosure.

Rep. Mike Kelly’s four dealerships received $150,000 minimum loans each. A spokesperson said the Pennsylvania Republican is not involved in day-to-day operations in accordance with congressional ethics policies, but Kelly listed that both he and his wife, Victoria, earned salaries from Kelly Chevrolet Cadillac in his most recent financial disclosure.

Two House members from California with agricultural business interests also received PPP loans. Both of the wineries Republican Devin Nunes has invested in, Alpha Omega Winery and Phase 2 Cellars, collected a minimum of $1 million each. And Democrat TJ Cox’s almond processor company, California Custom Processing, received at least $2 million.

Georgia GOP Rep. Rick W. Allen managed his construction firm for decades before heading to Congress. The company that bears his name received at least $350,000. His wife, Robin, is chairwoman of the company, according to the company’s website.

Campaign coffer

At least one congressional campaign also benefited from the program. Democrat Christine Mann, who is in a primary runoff next week in Texas’ 31st District, disclosed a $28,600 loan through the program on her most recent campaign finance report, first reported by Austin NBC affiliate, KXAN. The campaign received the funds in May to be used toward payroll and paid back the loan in June, according to the campaign’s FEC report.

The campaign applied for a loan because it was “hit financially during the pandemic,” spokeswoman Laura Gonzales wrote in an email. Mann is a practicing physician and has been testing patients for COVID-19, Gonzales said, adding that Mann “wanted to ensure her staff continued to receive a livable wage.”

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

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