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Consumer Groups: Make List of PPP Recipients Public

A federal program to aid thousands of small businesses affected by the COVID-19 crisis has come under fire because the U.S. Treasury is refusing to say who's getting the funds. (Chansom Pantik/Adobe Stock)
A federal program to aid thousands of small businesses affected by the COVID-19 crisis has come under fire because the U.S. Treasury is refusing to say who's getting the funds. (Chansom Pantik/Adobe Stock)
June 17, 2020

PHOENIX -- The federal government is spending billions of dollars to help small businesses in Arizona and elsewhere survive the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. But in an unprecedented move, the Trump administration is refusing to say just where all that money is going.

Congress is considering legislation to force Treasury officials to reveal which companies are receiving forgivable loans under the Paycheck Protection Program. R.J. Cross, tax and budget advocate for the Arizona Public Interest Research Group, said keeping that information secret is outrageous -- and illegal.

"None of that info is going to get made public, and even just the names of companies and businesses getting these loans is now to be considered proprietary information -- which, to be clear, is pretty ridiculous," she said. "We are talking about over half a trillion dollars."

During the Great Recession, Cross said, federal bailout programs named businesses and the amounts they received, allowing investigators to more easily see where taxpayer money might be misused. But Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has claimed releasing that information now would be "anti-competitive."

Cross said Arizona PIRG believes keeping the information secret raises some troubling questions.

"How are we going to know," she asked, "if the program achieves its ends? How are we going to know that those billions are spent in the best possible way during a global crisis? And how are we going to know that that program doesn't end up as a vehicle for corruption?"

Cross said watchdog groups already have uncovered instances of huge loans going to large, well-funded companies instead of benefiting small businesses and their workers.

"Transparency has always been a bipartisan issue. No one wants to see taxpayer dollars get wasted on inefficient or corrupt spending," she said. "The biggest bailout in U.S. history deserves the most transparency, and nothing could be clearer than that."

House Democrats are backing a pair of bills that would require the Small Business Administration to make the loan recipients and amounts public. In addition, public-interest groups and news organizations are suing the government to release the information.

The PPP Transparency Act is online at congress.gov, and information abou the media lawsuit is at washingtonpost.com.

Disclosure: Arizona PIRG Education Fund contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Consumer Issues, Energy Policy, Urban Planning/Transportation. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ