Monty Bennett, Trump donor and largest recipient of PPP funds, will return money

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  • The largest recipient of COVID-19 bailout loans, Trump campaign donor Monty Bennett, announced Saturday he would return all money received through the Paycheck Protection Program.
  • Bennett’s conglomerate of 128 hotels received, collectively, more than $58 million through the PPP.
  • The Ashford Group of Companies said in a statement to investors it would return all funds due to the Small Business Administration’s “recently changed rules and inconsistent federal guidance that put the companies at compliance risk.”
  • The news came just hours after Democratic nominee Joe Biden blasted Bennett in a tweet, demanding he return the money so the government can “give it to the small businesses that need it.”
  • Business Insider broke the news last week that Bennett won the money after contributing significantly to Trump’s re-election and spending $50,000 to hire two of Trump’s fundraisers to lobby the administration for bailout money.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The hotel conglomerate run by a major campaign donor to President Donald Trump, Monty Bennett, announced Saturday it would return all the money it received through the Paycheck Protection Program.

“The Ashford Group of Companies announced today that all of its companies, including Ashford Inc. (NYSE American: AINC), Ashford Hospitality Trust, Inc. (NYSE: AHT) (“Ashford Trust”), and Braemar Hotels & Resorts Inc. (NYSE: BHR) (“Braemar”), will return all funds provided by the Small Business Administration’s (“SBA”) Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) due to the agency’s recently changed rules and inconsistent federal guidance that put the companies at compliance risk,” Bennett’s companies said in a statement emailed to investors.

Bennett’s decision came two hours after Democratic nominee Joe Biden blasted Bennett, tweeting, “Monty Bennett should return the tens of millions of dollars he received, and we should give it to the small businesses that need it.”

Bennett runs a conglomerate of 128 hotels, which received, collectively, more than $58 million through the PPP. Business Insider broke the news on April 23 that he won the money after contributing significantly to Trump’s re-election and spent $50,000 to hire two of the president’s fundraisers to lobby the administration for bailout money.

A Bennett company spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment Saturday night. Two days ago, the Bennett spokesman said the company was still deciding whether to return the money. Spokespeople for the Treasury Department and Small Business Administration did not immediately return requests for comment Saturday.

One week ago, Bennett announced he did not plan to return the money unless pressed to by the SBA. The Treasury Department announced on April 23 that it would require publicly traded companies, like Bennett’s to return the PPP money, following a massive public backlash as it was revealed some of the biggest recipients were large chains like Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. 

The fund, originally designed to help small businesses weather the COVID-19 pandemic, was quickly drained of the first infusion of $349 billion from Congress. Congress held an emergency series of meetings through April to approve another $300 billion for the program.  

Bennett pleaded his case through March as the COVID-19 outbreak racked his hotel conglomerate, which includes high-end properties like Ritz-Carltons, and more modest fare like Courtyard Suites, spread across the nation. He took to the airwaves to say he may not be able to make the coming debt payments on $4 billion of outstanding loans and had been forced to lay off 90% of the staff in his hotels.

But it wasn’t until after he hired two prominent fundraisers for the Trump campaign, Jeff Miller and Roy Bailey, to lobby the Treasury Department, that loans started coming through for him. 

Bennett noted in a statement Saturday night that he was invited to the White House with other hotel owners on March 17 — one week after he hired Miller and Bailey to lobby for him. 

“The hotel industry has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting National Emergency,” Bennet said in a statement. “Hotel industry executives met with the Administration at the White House on March 17, 2020 to plead for help for our industry. We are disappointed that, in an abundance of caution to avoid any risk of non-compliance with the changed PPP rules, our actions mean that our employees, vendors, communities and others in need will not benefit from the PPP as Congress intended.  We call on Congress, the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve to provide assistance to the hotel industry to protect jobs and asset values that have been severely impaired as a result of the pandemic and the government’s actions that have followed.”

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