In late March, real estate investment firm Ashford Inc. was on the verge of financial ruin. But it had an ace in the hole: a pair of D.C. lobbying firms stacked with Trump fundraisers and White House alumni.
A few weeks later, Ashford is now the top recipient nationwide of coronavirus relief aid from the $350 billion Paycheck Protection Act.
The Dallas-based Ashford does extensive business in the hotel industry through a pair of real estate investment trusts. Its chairman, Monty Bennett, penned an open letter on March 22 detailing just how devastating the virus had been for his company.
“My industry and our businesses are completely crushed,” he wrote “This pandemic’s economic impact on the hotel industry is worse than all of the previous calamities combined.”
Bennett himself is a huge Trump donor. He’s given over $200,000 to the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee, and a joint fundraising committee supporting both of them since last year, according to Federal Election Commission records. He chipped in even more in support of Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Twelve days before Bennett wrote that open letter, Ashford had beefed up its political muscle even more. It hired its first-ever Washington lobbying firm, Miller Strategies. That firm is run by Jeff Miller, who was a finance vice-chair of President Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee. He has raised more than $2.8 million for the RNC and a Trump joint fundraising committee so far this cycle, including $2.5 million in the first quarter of 2020 alone, according to FEC filings. Miller’s firm also employs Jonathan Hiller, the former director of legislative affairs for Vice President Mike Pence, and Ashley Gunn, Trump’s former director of cabinet affairs.
Miller’s lobbying registration form said it would be working on “issues as they relate to the hotel industry” on Ashford’s behalf. He didn’t respond to inquiries about whether he helped the company secure PPP aid.
Miller’s work on Ashford’s behalf shows how some large companies have attempted to leverage political connections into a greater share of the massive amounts of federal money being doled out to mitigate the economic damage caused by the coronavirus. It also shows how some large chains have attempted to maximize their assistance from the PPP program by treating each of their franchises as a separate business, enabling awards to multiple firms owned by the same parent company.
On the same day that Ashford hired Miller, it inked a separate lobbying deal with another Trump-connected firm. Bailey Strategic Advisors is run by Roy Bailey, a Trump fundraiser who served as finance chair of pro-Trump super PAC America First Action and on the board of an affiliated dark money group, America Fist Policies.
Bailey’s firm was more specific about what it would be doing on Ashford’s behalf, saying in lobbying registration forms that it would work on “issues related to COVID-19 relief for the hotel industry.”
News of the $53 million in PPP funds that Ashford eventually received—more than any other company—has fueled criticism this week of the large amounts of money from the program steered to large firms, ostensibly at the expense of smaller ones. The PPP program is set to get another $300 billion injection after its initial funds were depleted in a matter of days.
“As small businesses are struggling across the country, it’s still mega-donors first for Donald Trump and his administration,” said Jeb Fain, a spokesman for the Democratic super PAC American Bridge, in a statement on Ashford’s work in securing PPP funds. “Hardworking Americans deserve better than a president more focused on special favors than managing a major crisis.”
To recap, Ashford got over $ 50 million in PPP "small business" taxpayer funds.. More than any business in the country.
No doubt a healthy chunk of that will be donated back to Trump's campaign and the RNC.
This is happening all over the country. It's a massive scheme.
They're stealing from the bank in broad daylight because nobody gives a damn.