Celebrities among unlikely PPP recipients

Published 1:10 pm Wednesday, July 8, 2020

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The government’s small business lending program has benefited millions of companies, with the goal of minimizing the number of layoffs Americans have suffered in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Yet the recipients include many you probably wouldn’t have expected.
Clothing lines by Kanye West and Reese Witherspoon. The company that sells the “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” series of books by personal finance guru Robert Kiyosaki. Law firms and high-dollar hedge funds. Political groups on both the left and right.
All told, the Treasury Department’s Paycheck Protection Program authorized $520 billion for nearly 5 million mostly small businesses and nonprofits. On Monday, the government released the names and some other details of recipients who were approved for $150,000 or more.
That amounted to fewer than 15% of all borrowers. The Associated Press and other news organizations are suing the government to obtain the names of the remaining recipients.
Here are nine unlikely recipients of the PPP loans:
A Nashville company called “Road Dog Touring, Inc.” was approved for a small business loan of $2 million to $5 million. The company owns the official website for country singer Tim McGraw, timmccgraw.com, and a joint official site with his wife, Faith Hill, timandfaith.com. A message inquiring about the relationship between Road Dog and the two stars has not been returned. The company said the loan would support 37 jobs, according to the data released by Treasury.
Also on Treasury’s list is “Rich Dad Operating Co.,” which is affiliated with Robert Kiyosaki, the best-selling author of the “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” series of personal finance books and games. The company was approved for a loan between $350,000 and $1 million, the government said. The company said the loan would support 11 jobs. A phone call and email seeking comment weren’t returned.
Kiyosaki, who co-wrote two books with Donald Trump, has been a strong critic of efforts by the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department to support the economy since the pandemic intensified. On Twitter April 2 he criticized the PPP the day before it began taking applications, calling it “socialism for rich.”
Koons, a modernist sculptor, is known best for his work with large, metallic balloon-like animals. His “Rabbit” sculpture fetched $91 million at auction last year.
Koons’ studio was approved for $1 million to $2 million, the government’s data shows. (The data shows only ranges for the amounts of approved loans.) His studio said it employed 53 people before the pandemic. The PPP loans can be forgiven if employers use most of the money to keep their workers on the payroll.
Nearly 600 asset management companies and private equity firms were approved for money from the PPP, according to government data.
Financial firms were generally not badly hurt by the coronavirus pandemic. Their employees were largely able to keep working, and they weren’t among the industries that had to be shut down by government orders. In addition, of course, investment managers and private equity employees tend to be exceedingly well-paid occupations.
According to the data, those 583 companies reported supporting roughly 14,800 jobs collectively with the money from the program. That’s an average of 25 employees per company.
One other notable financial company that borrowed from the program: Rosenblatt Securities, which commands one of the largest physical presences on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Rosenblatt borrowed between $1 million and $2 million.
Kanye West’s clothing-and-sneaker brand Yeezy received a loan of between $2 million and $5 million, according to the data released by Treasury. The company employed 106 people in mid-February before the pandemic struck.
Yeezy, best known for its $250 sneakers, just announced a major deal with Gap that will have the rap superstar designing hoodies and T-shirts to be sold in the chain’s 1,100 stores around the world. (A representative for Yeezy didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.)
Last weekend, West, a notable fan of President Donald Trump, tweeted that he was running for president.
Good American, the jeans and activewear line of Khloe Kardashian and her business partner Emma Grede, got a loan of between $1 million and $2 million dollars and had 57 jobs retained through the coronavirus downturn.
And Reese Witherspoon’s Southern-themed clothing brand Draper James received between $350,000 and $1 million under the fund, helping it to keep 44 people employed.
The Americans for Tax Reform Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the anti-tax lobbying group Americans for Tax Reform, was approved for a loan of up to $350,000. ATR, led by the anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, who has long supported a smaller federal government, said it didn’t oppose the PPP. It described the program “as compensation for a government taking during the shutdown.”
The Center for Law and Social Policy, a research and advocacy group focused on policies supporting low-income Americans, was authorized for a loan of up to $1 million, according to government data.
The Girl Scouts’ national organization received a $5 million to $10 million loan that it said would support 408 jobs. And more than 30 Girl Scout chapters across the country received PPP loans, the Treasury said. The Girl Scouts of Montana and Wyoming were approved for between $350,000 and $1 million.
The funds “allowed Girl Scouts of the USA to maintain our workforce,” the organization said in a statement. “Girl Scouts quickly pivoted to virtual programming at a time when both girls and their families need additional support.”
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s family companies received at least $6.3 million from the program.
Justice, a Republican, is considered to be West Virginia’s richest person through his ownership of dozens of coal and agricultural businesses, many of which have been sued for unpaid debts. At least six Justice family businesses were approved for loans, including The Greenbrier Sporting Club, an exclusive club attached to a lavish resort that Justice owns called The Greenbrier.
Justice, a billionaire, acknowledged last week that his private companies received money from the program but said he didn’t know the dollar amounts. A representative for the governor’s family companies didn’t immediately return emails seeking comment.
TGI Fridays and P.F. Chang’s China Bistro were among the major restaurant chains that were approved for loans.
Dallas-based TGI Fridays, which has around 500 restaurants nationwide, obtained between $5 million and $10 million in loans from the program. In 2014, TGI Fridays was bought by the the New York private equity firm TriArtisan Capital Advisors. That firm also owns P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, which was also approved for a loan.
Though the PPP program was designed to help small businesses, big hotel and restaurant chains were also allowed to apply. A message seeking comment was left with TGI Fridays.
P.F. Chang’s China Bistro says a PPP loan helped it keep 12,000 workers employed and transition its restaurants to carry-out-only during the coronavirus pandemic. Scottsdale, Arizona-based P.F. Chang’s, which has more than 210 restaurants around the country, was approved for between $5 million and $10 million from the PPP program, according to the government data.
AP Entertainment Writer Andrew Dalton contributed to this story.

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