Billionaire who hired Trump allies for $50,000 got millions in small business loans

'The government is picking winners and losers'

Justin Vallejo
New York
Friday 01 May 2020 21:07 BST
Shake Shack CEO explains why company returned $10m PPP money

The Texas billionaire behind a luxury hotel group that received millions of dollars in small business loans hired two of Donald Trump's closest allies to lobby the president, it was reported.

Monty Bennett, chairman of the Ashford Hospitality Trust and Braemar Hotels & Resorts, engaged Jeff Miller, former vice chairman of Trump's inaugural committee and Roy Baily, a fundraiser for the president's re-election campaign, according to The Washington Post.

'The government is picking winners and losers in industries, so being able to have an understanding of . . . the pulse of this administration and thought patterns, and their processes as to how they got to these decisions years ago, provides help,' a lobbyist and former Trump official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the Post.

Under the coronavirus response Paycheck Protection Program, three of the Texan's publicly traded hotel companies applied for $126m in loans and received $69m, according to an analysis of securities filings by The Associated Press.

While well-known public companies like Shake Shack, Ruth's Hospitality Group and Potbelly have returned loans following mounting pressure, Mr Bennett's group of companies said they would keep the emergency funding.

"We plan to keep all funds received under the [Paycheck Protection Program], which were provided as a result of the application process and other specific requirements established for our industry by Congress," the three hotel companies said in a statement.

A few weeks before receiving the loans, the companies reportedly began working with two lobbyists and long-time Republican operatives.

Mr Miller ran the 2016 presidential bid of former Texas governor Rick Perry and currently works with lobbying firm Ballard Partners.

Firm head Brian Ballard was registered as a lobbyist on behalf of the Trump Organisation in 2016, according to records cited in the report.

Mr Baily, meanwhile, is reportedly a fundraiser for Trump's re-election campaign

They are among at least 25 people connected to the Trump administration that are believed to be working as lobbyists for companies participating in the White House's coronavirus response.

The Paycheck Protection Program was designed to help businesses with fewer than 500 employees, with the initial $349 billion running out and an additional $310 billion approved.

Of the 306 loans totalling more than $1b that went to public companies, 26 have been returned valuing $167.5m, according to data analytics firm FactSquared.

The Small Business Administration has put pressure on public companies to return the loans, with new guidelines implying that unless a company can prove it was legitimately eligible for a loan, the money should be returned by 7 May.

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