WASHINGTON ― As the coronavirus ravaged America this spring, 15 business leaders gave President Donald Trump and the Republican Party $1.4 million in big checks while their businesses collected at least $41 million in federal assistance.
William Scott, CEO of railroad contractor Trans-Global Solutions, donated $150,000 to the Trump Victory committee in the weeks after his company received as much as $10 million from the Paycheck Protection Program on April 14.
Alfred Hendrickson, the owner of a South Florida Toyota dealership, donated $41,100 to Trump’s Make America Great Committee on April 27, the same day his dealership received a PPP loan worth as much as $5 million.
And Dan Eberhart, the head of oilfield services provider Canary LLC, gave $100,000 to Trump Victory on June 10, two months after receiving as much as $8.4 million in PPP loans for Canary and three affiliated companies.
Robert Weissman, head of the liberal watchdog group Public Citizen, said the big-dollar donations from principals at businesses receiving swift approval for federal aid erode confidence in an important and necessary government program.
“Recipients should have been prohibited from making political contributions,” he said.
PPP was passed by Congress and is being implemented by Trump’s appointees. Its payments to companies are structured as traditional loans handed out by banks, with the expectation that they will ultimately be forgiven and treated as federal grants. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin for weeks wanted to keep the names of recipients secret and only recently relented to making the list public. Many small business owners without established lines of credit at major banks found it difficult to get these loans, while larger, richer companies often were approved quickly.
Trump Victory and the Make America Great Committee are both joint fundraising committees that pass along donations to both the Trump reelection campaign, which cannot take more than $5,600 from a single individual for an election cycle, and the Republican National Committee, which can accept as much as $1.4 million per election cycle per person.
Among the donors to those committees, according to their 2020 second-quarter filings to the Federal Election Commission, were 15 individuals and couples affiliated with two dozen businesses that received PPP money, as reported by the Treasury earlier this month. Those companies together received at least $40.8 million and as much as $87.7 million in payments (based on the ranges of amounts provided by the Treasury).
Eberhart said there is no relationship between his personal donations and the Scottsdale, Arizona, companies he runs, which received between $3.5 million and $8.4 million to preserve a total of 268 jobs.
“I think they’re two different things. It’s not the same as one’s personal balance sheet,” he said. “I don’t really see a connection between the two.”
Eberhart’s explanation, though, is at odds with the views of the beneficiary of his largess, who explained his own theory on campaign contributions when he began his presidential run in 2015.
“As a businessman and a very substantial donor to very important people, when you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do,” Trump told The Wall Street Journal in July 2015. He expanded on that thought days later at the first GOP debate in Cleveland: “I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And do you know what? When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me.”
The campaign of 2020 presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden said Trump is now practicing the same pay-to-play scheme that he described as a candidate. “Trump’s economic ‘relief’ efforts have simply continued to shovel taxpayer money to the wealthy and well-connected instead of middle class families and small businesses in need,” spokesman Michael Gwin said. “It should come as no surprise that big donors to Donald Trump’s campaign are reaping a windfall of taxpayer support because this is the exact sort of cronyism that Trump has practiced since his first day in the White House.”
Neither the White House nor the Trump campaign responded to HuffPost queries regarding the donations.
“The Trump administration stalled on releasing who got loans and now Secretary Mnuchin is suggesting forgiving all the loans regardless of whether companies met the requirements,” said Jordan Libowitz with the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which received a PPP payment on April 27 of as much as $1 million to protect 35 jobs. “It’s important this process not only be transparent, but adhered to.”