Our spring issue, “Pandemic Politics,” is out now. Get a discounted subscription today!

Why Are House Democrats Pushing to Give Coronavirus Relief Funds to Corporate and Dark Money Groups?

If you're curious about who both Republicans and Democrats are prioritizing in providing coronavirus relief, look no further than the new legislation proposed by House Democrats that would give away enormous amounts of money to corporate lobbyists and dark money groups under the guise of aiding average workers.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi discusses the CARES Act after the bill was passed at the US Capitol on March 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee / Getty Images)

As millions lose jobs, health care, and homes, House Democrats have moved from helping Donald Trump give large corporations $4 trillion to now asking the really important questions: How can we prevent workers from getting too much subsistence income, and how can we then rescue the real victims in this crisis — the corporate lobbyists that run Washington?

This week, Axios reported that House Democrats are working on legislation to “ensure that people aren’t ‘double-dipping’ into the different pots of money” — for instance, “they do not want someone who is receiving more unemployment money to also receive money through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).”

At the same time, Democratic lawmakers are pushing new bills that would let corporate lobbying organizations and dark money groups in Washington grab some of that dwindling PPP money for themselves before the cash gets to more mom-and-pop businesses teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Moreover, the legislation would knowingly help some politically connected industries effectively double-dip on giant bailouts for themselves.

A Bailout for Corporate Lobbying Organizations & Dark Money Groups

If this sounds like Onion-style satire, I wish that were true — but it is very real.

One version of the legislation — which was requested by major corporate lobbying groups — “would expand PPP eligibility to include 501(c)(6) organizations with 300 or fewer employees,” according to a press release from New Hampshire Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas.

The latest coronavirus-related stimulus bill just released by House Democratic leaders would expand PPP eligibility to include all nonprofit organizations with less than five hundred employees, including both corporate trade associations and 501(c)(4) dark money groups that influence elections.

Pappas says his bill is designed to make sure that local Chambers of Commerce “can continue supporting our Main Street businesses and local economies.” But a review of IRS filings shows that almost all of the giant corporate trade associations in Washington are 501(c)(6) organizations with fewer than three hundred employees.

Among the groups that could be newly eligible for the “small business” loans are:

  • America’s Health Insurance Plans — the multimillion-dollar advocacy group for insurance corporations that oppose Medicare for All and that control the health care of hundreds of millions of Americans.
  • The Partnership for America’s Health Care Future — the health care industry’s dark money group that spent the Democratic primary vilifying Bernie Sanders’s Medicare for All proposal in television ads.
  • Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) — a group that posts roughly half a billion dollars of annual revenue and that serves as the primary lobbying group for multibillion-dollar pharma giants.
  • The Institute for Legal Reform — the arm of the US Chamber of Commerce that is pushing lawmakers to shield large corporations from lawsuits if their efforts to force workers back on the job ends up killing people in the pandemic.
  • Stand Together, the shell organization of the political network financed by Charles Koch, and Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-linked dark money group.
  • The American Chemistry Council — one of the main lobbying groups for fossil fuel and chemical corporations.

Workers Get Means Testing, Corporations Get Double-Dip Bailouts

In an attempt to portray themselves as fiscally responsible, Democrats spent March insisting that benefits for workers must be means-tested, and now they are spending May trying to prevent workers from double-dipping on emergency benefits. And yet their new legislation could end up letting industries engage in the very kind of “double-dipping” that Democrats say they oppose.

For instance, under the legislation:

  • The private equity industry’s lobbying group, the American Investment Council, could dip into the PPP money — all while private equity firms also successfully lobbied to be eligible for other huge Federal Reserve bailouts that mom-and-pop businesses cannot access.
  • The bank industry’s lobbying group, the American Bankers Association, could dip into the PPP money — all while the banking industry itself is making billions in fees off administering the PPP itself.
  • The airline industry’s lobbying group, Airlines For America, could dip into the PPP money — all while the group’s member airlines are getting a special $50 billion bailout that mom-and-pop businesses do not get.
  • For-profit colleges’ lobbying group, Career Education Colleges and Universities, could dip into the PPP money — all while the group’s members will benefit from bailout provisions allowing them to keep federal money for students, even when students drop out because of financial hardship.
  • The airline manufacturers’ lobbying group, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, could dip into the PPP money — all while its member Boeing is getting a Federal Reserve bailout.

Stealing From the Peasantry

It would be one thing if Congress followed the lead of other countries and directly covered workers’ lost wages during the crisis. Under that kind of program, all workers from all industries would receive support, and money flowing to industries that don’t need it would simply be an inevitable cost of necessary universality.

But lawmakers rejected that commonsense path. Instead, they created a smorgasbord of byzantine programs — a far more complex mess that is quite obviously worse for workers, but lets politicians’ corporate donors make more money and game the system.

Within that mishmash, the PPP is a small pot of money compared to the enormous bailouts for large corporations, and it was supposed to be relatively simple. It was supposed to be a straightforward pass-through to workers at actual small businesses — the neighborhood restaurant, the local mechanic, the general store in town.

Now we see in the Democratic proposals that even something comparatively small and simple is being turned into yet another target for corruption, greed, and wealth redistribution upward.

Allowing corporate lobbying organizations and dark money groups to grab this money is akin to feudal lords gorging themselves at a lavish banquet, and then also raiding the last basket of bread that starving peasants are relying on to survive outside the palace walls.