A coalition of news organizations is suing the Trump administration, accusing the Small Business Administration (SBA) of stonewalling their repeated Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for access to records showing which entities received taxpayer-backed loans through the $659 billion Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
The Washington Post, Bloomberg, The New York Times, ProPublica, and Dow Jones, the publisher of The Wall Street Journal, joined in the complaint, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. They demanded that the SBA divulge details regarding the identity of all loan recipients, the size of each loan disbursed, and the bank that processed the loan application, among other information.
Enacted as part of the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the PPP was supposed to help the middle class withstand the recent economic downturn by providing forgivable loans to help small businesses continue paying employees and expenses.
However, the administration’s rollout of the program has been riddled with administrative problems while remaining shrouded in secrecy—the names of borrowers included. Only through press reports have several billion dollar businesses such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Shake Shack, and Ruth’s Chris Steak House been identified as recipients.
The news organizations asked the court to issue an injunction preventing the SBA from “withholding agency records” and ordering the it to produce “any agency records improperly withheld.”
In a statement, ProPublica’s general counsel Jeremy Kutner said the information is of urgent need to the public.
“Enormous amounts of taxpayer money are being committed to what is supposed to be a lifeline for millions of struggling American businesses,” he said. “The public has an urgent right and need to know how it is being spent, and whether it is being directed to those most in need. We are pleased to be acting along with colleagues at other leading news organizations to make sure this information promptly sees the light of day.”
A similar sentiment was expressed by a spokesperson for the Washington Post.
“The Small Business Administration has disbursed hundreds of billions of dollars through [the Paycheck Protection Program] and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program during the COVID-19 crisis, but it has refused to disclose who is receiving the funds and in what amounts,” Washington Post VP for Communications Kris Coratti Kelly said in a statement Tuesday. “Our lawsuit seeks to enforce federal law and enable the public to see how their tax dollars are being spent on these massive loan programs.”
Read the full filing below
[image via MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images
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