Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Today is the LAST DAY of this Mid-Year Campaign. This is our hour of need.
If you value independent journalism, please support Common Dreams.

TODAY is the last day to meet our goal -- Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin walks in the halls of the U.S. Capitol building on March 24, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

'Outrageous': Trump Administration Waived Ethics Reviews for Lawmakers and Federal Officials Seeking Small Business Loans

"This is the exact time when we should be worried about government officials, even members of Congress, taking money out of the hands of others in need."

Jake Johnson

The Trump administration in April quietly issued a sweeping waiver exempting members of Congress and other federal officials from ethics rules in order to allow them and their families to apply for small business coronavirus relief loans without facing conflict of interest reviews.

The existence of the ethics waiver was reported Friday by the Washington Post and met with alarm by good government advocates who warned the "blanket approval" from the Small Business Administration (SBA) opens the door to abuse of Paycheck Protection Program funds designed to help struggling small businesses stay afloat.

"The idea that the Small Business Administration can, without any review or publicity, secretly let all of its employees arrange loans for their family members or associates is outrageous."
—Josh Gotbaum, Brookings Institution

Scott Amey, general counsel with the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, told the Post that "this is the exact time when we should be worried about government officials, even members of Congress, taking money out of the hands of others in need."

"Let's hope someone else is minding the store," added Amey, "because SBA seems more about speed and less about accounting for taxpayer dollars."

The Post noted that lawmakers and federal officials who own small businesses and want to apply for loans must typically be approved by the SBA's Standards of Conduct Committee.

"But in a rule the administration issued April 13," the Post reported, "the administration disclosed that the approval requirement had been suspended for all entities seeking funds from the $660 billion [Paycheck Protection Program] 'so that further action by the [ethics committee] is not necessary."

Josh Gotbaum, a guest scholar in the Brookings Institution's Economic Studies Program, told the Post he was "appalled" by the sweeping ethics waiver.

"The idea that the Small Business Administration can, without any review or publicity, secretly let all of its employees arrange loans for their family members or associates is outrageous," said Gotbaum.

The number of lawmakers and federal officials who have benefited from PPP loans is not yet known because Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has resisted calls to release the information. In the face of backlash, Treasury and the SBA last week agreed to disclose the names of borrowers who received loans of $150,000 or more.

Politico reported last week that at least four members of Congress—Reps. Roger Williams (R-Texas), Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), Susie Lee (D-Nev.), and Debbie Mucarsel Powell (D-Fla.)—have "reaped benefits in some way from the half-trillion-dollar small-business loan program they helped create."

A spokesperson for Lee told the Post the congresswoman was not aware that her husband—the owner of Las Vegas casino company Full House Resorts—was interested in applying for PPP loans when she was pushing for casinos to be made eligible for the relief funds in April.

The SBA ultimately allowed casinos to apply, and Full House Resorts received two loans totalling $5.6 million.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

TODAY is the last day of our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Texas Supreme Court Allows Century-Old Abortion Ban to Take Effect

"Extremist politicians are on a crusade to force Texans into pregnancy and childbirth against their will, no matter how devastating the consequences."

Jake Johnson ·


'What's There to Even Discuss?' Omar Says Free, Universal School Meals Should Be Permanent

"We have an opportunity to prove that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people can still deliver big things. And we can feed tens of millions of hungry kids while we do it."

Jake Johnson ·


'Stark Betrayal': Biden Administration Floats New Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling

"This is the third time since November the Biden administration has announced new oil and gas leasing plans on the Friday before a holiday," said one climate advocate. "They're ashamed, and they should be."

Jake Johnson ·


As US Rolls Back Reproductive Rights, Sierra Leone Moves to Decriminalize Abortion

"I'm hopeful today's announcement gives activists in the U.S., and especially Black women given the shared history, a restored faith that change is possible and progress can be made."

Brett Wilkins ·


'Indefensible': Outrage as New Reporting Shines Light on Biden Deal With McConnell

The president has reportedly agreed to nominate an anti-abortion Republican to a lifetime judgeship. In exchange, McConnell has vowed to stop blocking two Biden picks for term-limited U.S. attorney posts.

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo