When the Trump administration began implementing a trillion-dollar program to bail out struggling employers amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a central concern was that the president would use the program to benefit his friends and allies.
It turns out that Trump’s pals weren’t the ones catching the windfall so much as Washington, D.C.’s well-off and well-connected in general. Among the entities cashing six to seven-figure checks from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program in recent months were a fiscal responsibility advocacy organization run by anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, a high-powered consulting firm run by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the nonprofit headed by former Trump campaign official David Bossie, and a political strategy firm linked to two alumni of the Obama White House who’ve turned anti-Trump podcasting into a lucrative enterprise.
Businesses tied to the president’s son-in-law as well as members of Congress got taxpayer funds. As did the elite D.C.-area schools where both President Donald Trump and President Barack Obama enrolled their children: St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, where Barron Trump is a student, got between $2 million and $5 million; and Sidwell Friends School, where both Obama children graduated high school, got between $5 million and $10 million.
On Monday, the Treasury Department finally released the name of everyone who received a loan greater than $150,000 through the PPP. The disclosure does not cover loans below that amount, nor does it specify the exact amount that each organization received. In the months before Monday’s loan disclosure, certain companies and entities—sensing the possibility of negative publicity—announced their receipt of loans and, more often than not, that they were returning them. The media company Axios, for example, proactively announced it had applied for and received a PPP loan, and then said it was returning those funds after taking criticism.
Other outlets had no such compunctions. Records show $350,000 to $1 million went to Observer Holdings LLC, the parent entity of Observer Media—the publishing company formerly owned by White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner. Kushner resigned from the news organization before decamping to Washington, D.C. in 2017, but it has remained in the family: Joseph Meyer, wedded to Kushner’s sister, Nicole, lists it among the holdings of his Observer Capital investment firm. The federal assistance preserved 41 jobs, according to the SBA.
The Observer was not the only Kushner family business to take advantage of the PPP program. Two of the family’s New Jersey hotels also cashed in. The SBA materials show that $1 million to $2 million in assistance went to Princeton Forrestal LLC—revealed in Security and Exchange Commission records to be 40 percent owned by the former developer’s mother, brother, and sister. Esplanade Livingston LLC, which owns the land on which the company’s Westminster Hotel sits, received another $350,000 to $1 million. Mortgage documents filed in Essex County, New Jersey show that Esplanade Livingston LLC is controlled by C.K. Livingston LLC, a company that bears the initials of Jared Kushner’s father Charles—and which the former disclosed in 2017 as a source of personal income from the hotel.
Kushner Companies at once acknowledged and defended its receipt of PPP aid.
“Several of our hotels have applied for federal loans, in accordance with all guidelines, with a vast majority of funds going to furloughed employees,” asserted Chief Operating Officer Peter Febo.
Meanwhile, the conservative online media outlet founded by Trump confidante and Fox News host Tucker Carlson, the Daily Caller, received as much as $1 million. Carlson sold his stake in the company on June 10. And Newsmax, the conservative TV network and website owned by another presidential confidante, Christopher Ruddy, got a loan worth $2 million to $5 million.
Collectively, the massive data dump makes clear that while smaller businesses around the country may have struggled to navigate the process of obtaining the federal government loans, little such difficulty was found among those in and around the nation’s capital.
At a certain level that’s to be expected; Washington is a company town, whose currency may be cash but also connections. To the extent that businesses in the city sought assistance through the program, they were likely to include advocacy groups, lobbying and public affairs shops, and even nonprofits affiliated with lawmakers themselves.
But unlike other regions of the country, businesses in Washington are in a unique position to affect and extract money from programs designed to benefit American business generally since they’re staffed with people close to those in power.