Trump donors among early recipients of coronavirus loans

FILE - In this Nov. 30, 2016, file photo, investor Ray Washburne waits for an elevator in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York. As much as $273 million in federal coronavirus aid was awarded to more than 100 companies that are owned or operated by major donors to President Donald Trump's election efforts, according to an Associated Press analysis of federal data that was released Monday, July 6, 2020. Irving, Texas-based M Crowd Restaurant Group, which owns 27 Texas restaurants including the Mi Cocina chain, was approved for between $5 million and $10 million. Washburne, one of the companys founders, was vice chairman of the Trump Victory Committee in 2016 and donated $100,000 to the PAC last August. The company did not respond to a request for comment. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File) (Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON – As much as $273 million in federal coronavirus aid was awarded to more than 100 companies that are owned or operated by major donors to President Donald Trump's election efforts, according to an Associated Press analysis of federal data.

Many were among the first to be approved for a loan in early April, when the administration was struggling to launch the lending program. And only eight businesses had to wait until early May before securing the aid, according to the AP’s review of data released Monday.

The Trump-connected companies obtained the aid through the Paycheck Protection Program, which extends a lifeline to small businesses struggling to navigate the pandemic. Fast-food chains like Muy Brands, oil and gas companies and white-collar firms were all granted a slice of more than $659 billion in low-interest business loans that will be forgiven if the money is used on payroll, rent and similar expenses.

All told, the Trump supporters who run these companies have contributed at least $11.1 million since May 2015 to Trump’s campaign committees, the Republican National Committee and America First Action, a super PAC that has been endorsed by Trump, the AP review found. Each donor gave at least $20,000.

There is no evidence the companies received favorable treatment as a result of their ties to Trump, and the businesses account for just a fraction of the overall spending under the program.

But the distribution of relief money is coming under heightened scrutiny after the Trump administration initially refused to reveal which companies received loans, only to cave under growing bipartisan pressure from Congress. On Monday, the Treasury Department released the names of companies that received loans that were greater than $150,000, though they didn't release specific dollar figures and instead gave ranges for the dollar value of the aid.

Among the recipients named Monday was the conservative website NewsMax, which was approved for a loan up to $5 million on April 13, the data shows. NewsMax CEO Christopher Ruddy has donated $525,000 to political committees supporting Trump, records show. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Muy Brands, a San Antonio, Texas-based company that operates Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Wendy’s franchises, was approved for a loan worth between $5 million and $10 million. Its owner, James Bodenstedt, has donated $672,570 to Trump since 2016, records show. The company did not respond to a request for comment.