Airlines that donated to Trump’s election receive massive bailouts after president scraps oversight for coronavirus relief funds

Government watchdog group accuses Trump of doling out billions to companies that contributed to his election

Chris Riotta
New York
Wednesday 15 April 2020 19:24 BST
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A government watchdog group has alleged airlines that donated to Donald Trump’s election were the first in line to receive billions in aid after the president ousted officials tasked with overseeing the congressional relief funds.

Accountable.US, a progressive oversight nonprofit, launched a new website this week outlined where some of the $500bn allocated for “distressed” big businesses in the $2.2tn Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act was being funnelled as the federal government began issuing payments.

The oversight group, which says it is “committed to exposing corruption and making sure public officials are advancing policies in the public interest”, pointed to companies like American Airlines and Delta — which contributed $264,366 and $195,859 to the president’s campaign, respectively — as having received first dibs on the government bailout money. Its analysis comes just after Mr Trump upended an oversight panel meant to regulate how the historic $2trn legislation was doled out amid the coronavirus pandemic.

American Airlines was set to receive a $5.8bn bailout, while Delta would get $5.4bn in crucial aid, according to the analysis.

While many big businesses typically contribute to leading candidates in state and national elections, the companies receiving initial funds also enjoy strong connections to the Trump administration, the group alleged: Daniel Elwell, who currently serves as a deputy administration for the Federal Aviation Administration, was previously a lobbyist for a firm representing American Airlines, while Steve Dickson, an administrator for the FAA, worked at Delta for 27 years before joining the administration.

Other airlines that donated to the president’s 2016 White House bid enjoyed early access to congressional relief funds, the watchdog group alleged, including Southwest Airlines, which donated over $125,000 to the president’s campaign and received a $3.2bn bailout, as well as JetBlue Airways, which donated $42,085 and received more than $935.8m from the funds.

Democrats have meanwhile condemned the president for rejecting oversight of the congressional relief package and replacing officials leading independent oversight agencies throughout the government, including the recent removal of ex-acting Pentagon watchdog Glenn Fine.

Dwrena Allen, a spokesperson for the Pentagon inspector general’s office, confirmed Mr Fine was “no longer on the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee” in a statement to Politico.

The removal showed Mr Trump was attempting to replace “honest and independent public servants because they are willing to speak truth to power and because he is so clearly afraid of strong oversight”, said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also released a statement saying: “The sudden removal and replacement of Acting Inspector General Fine is part of a disturbing pattern of retaliation by the president against independent overseers fulfilling their statutory and patriotic duties to conduct oversight on behalf of the American people.”

Even Republican Chuck Grassley issued a tweet calling on the president to view inspector generals “as helpers” to hold “bureaucracy accountable”.

Other components of the congressional relief package have stirred controversy in recent days, including a hidden Republican loophole allowing some 43,000 millionaires to enjoy an average windfall of $1.7m each, while the average American only receives $1,200 in stimulus payments.

In a statement to Salon, Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.US Action, called on the the federal government to be held accountable for how the relief funds are disbursed.

He said: “For the millions of Americans facing painful financial choices right now, the very least the Trump administration can do is spend their tax dollars responsibly and effectively.”

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