What unites Planned Parenthood, Kushner and Kanye? PPP loans

WASHINGTON — The federal government backed loans totaling as much as $150 million for Planned Parenthood affiliates in recent weeks, according to federal Paycheck Protection Program data released Monday by the Small Business Administration.

The loans infuriated anti-abortion-rights conservatives, who cheered last year when President Donald Trump moved successfully to block the organization from getting access to the federal government's main family planning fund.

"Planned Parenthood shouldn't have received a dime from the government's PPP program," Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., a close Trump ally, said in a tweet. "It's sick!"

The Planned Parenthood money was just one of many revelations that caught the attention of lawmakers and activists across the political spectrum as they pored over the names of more than 600,000 loan recipients Monday. Ultimately, Congress and Trump placed few restrictions on eligibility for the loan program, which was designed to help struggling small businesses and nonprofits meet payroll during the coronavirus crisis.

"Just like other nonprofits and health care providers, this pandemic has had a significant impact on Planned Parenthood health centers’ ability to provide care," said Jacqueline Ayers, vice president of government affairs and public policy for Planned Parenthood. "Paycheck Protection Program loans have ensured health centers can retain staff and continue to provide patients with essential, time-sensitive sexual and reproductive health care during this crisis."

The list of recipients included a series of names that became instant political hot buttons.in addition to restaurants, mom-and-pop stores and churches, forgivable loans were given to a private school named for a grandfather of Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner; companies with ties to lawmakers, their families and celebrities; Washington lobbying shops; Wall Street investment firms and private jet managers.

Even the educational affiliate of Americans for Tax Reform — a group led by Grover Norquist, who once said he wanted to shrink government to the size it could be drowned in a bathtub — took a loan of $150,000 to $350,000. In the past, Norquist has drawn a salary from the affiliate, according to its filings with the IRS. A spokesperson for ATR did not reply when asked whether the PPP loan had gone to cover any of Norquist's pay.

The low-interest loans convert to taxpayer-funded grants — a cash giveaway — as long as the recipients keep their workers employed. So far, the Small Business Administration has tracked $521 billion in loans that senior administration officials say have helped about 50 million Americans stay in their jobs. The program still has almost $132 billion in its coffers.

The agency released data only on recipients that got at least $150,000, which left 86.5 percent of the borrowers unnamed, according to senior administration officials. And the loan amounts were given as ranges: $150,000 to $350,000; $350,000 to $1 million; $1 million to $2 million; $2 million to $5 million; and $5 million to $10 million.

At least 43 Planned Parenthood affiliates received loans of $65 million to $150 million, according to the SBA records. Planned Parenthood withdrew from the federal government's main family planning fund last year after Trump issued a regulation that would otherwise have limited its ability to advise patients about abortion.

Rachel Bovard, a former Senate GOP aide who is senior director of policy for the Conservative Partnership Institute, said Republican lawmakers had expected Planned Parenthood to be barred from getting loans under affiliation rules.

"An investigation into how Planned Parenthood was awarded these funds over the intent of the members who voted for it appears warranted," she said in a text message.

The group says it is in compliance with the program's rules, and House and Senate Democrats have defended the loans in recent weeks after the SBA questioned the affiliates' eligibility.

“This is a clear political attack on Planned Parenthood health centers and access to reproductive health care," Ayers said. "It has nothing to do with Planned Parenthood health care organizations’ eligibility for COVID-19 relief efforts, and everything to do with the Trump administration using a public health crisis to advance a political agenda and distract from their own failures in protecting the American public from the spread of COVID-19."

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Planned Parenthood was hardly alone in jumping out on the list of recipients, and social media sites were abuzz with calls for various entities to give the money back.

The Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston, New Jersey, supported by the Kushner family for many years, was approved for a loan of $1 million to $2 million just eight days after the program was created. The Yeezy limited liability company, owned by billionaire musician and Trump acquaintance Kanye West, also borrowed $2 million to $5 million.

Clay Lacy Aviation, which offered its private jet-owning clients account credits after taking a loan, got $5 million to $10 million. It was one of at least four aviation-management companies that received both loans and money from the Treasury Department's separate program to subsidize airlines.

Washington's influence industry — "the swamp," in modern political lexicon — wasn't excluded from a program that some of its members worked hard to shape.

Wiley Rein and APCO Worldwide each took loans of $5 million to $10 million, while Miller and Chevalier, which lobbies for McDonald's, Bechtel and CVS Health — among other clients — borrowed in the $2 million to $5 million range. So did the National Trust for Historic Preservation; former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's consulting firm, Albright Stonebridge; and the public affairs company DCI Group. The list of recipients includes dozens of lobbying shops, associations, government affairs consultants and think tanks.

"In deciding whether to accept the PPP loans, companies considered not only the highly technical legal criteria but also the inevitable public scrutiny and potential for congressional oversight," said David Mortlock, a lawyer in the Washington office of Willkie Farr & Gallagher who advised clients on the program. "It seems some recipients may not have carefully considered one or either of these factors."