Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) is introducing legislation requiring all senators and representatives to disclose any Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans received by a business to which they or a family member are linked.
“It’s really simple: If you’re a member of Congress and you or a family member benefited from the PPP, Americans—your constituents—should know. This bill provides greater transparency, which ensures accountability,” Ernst said Monday in a statement announcing her proposal.
The Ernst proposal—known as the “Transparency Requirements Aimed at Congressional Expenditures Act (TRACE)”—would “require Members of Congress, spouses of Members of Congress, and employees of Congress to submit a financial disclosure form within 15 days of receiving a loan through the PPP. This information would be made publicly available,” she said in the statement.
“The PPP has saved countless businesses and the jobs of millions of Americans, but those in Congress who are voting on it, or any issue, where a potential conflict of interest may exist need to be upfront about it. The only reason to oppose this bill is if you have something to hide,” Ernst said.
Ernst’s proposal follows reports that at least four members of the House of Representatives or their family members are connected to businesses that have received millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded PPP loans under the $3 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Recovery and Economic Relief Act (CARES) approved by Congress and signed into law earlier this year.
The Ernst proposal would fill a loophole in new guidelines announced June 19 in which the Small Business Administration (SBA), which administers the PPP program, will disclose details of up to 75 percent of the loans. Depending on the amount of the loan, a member’s connection to a recipient firm may or may not be disclosed. The Ernst bill makes disclosure mandatory regardless of the amount.
The Iowa Republican’s bill is backed by open government advocates.
“Congress has authorized more than $650 billion for PPP since March. While PPP has certainly helped many small businesses around the country, taxpayers supporting this program have a right to know where such an extraordinary amount of money is going, especially if the Members of Congress who voted for the program are benefiting from it,” National Taxpayers Union (NTU) Policy and Government Affairs Manager Andrew Lautz said in the Ernst statement.
The NTU urges “Congress to pass it as standalone legislation or as part of the next major COVID-19 legislative package,” Lautz said.
“Taxpayers must be able to follow the money. If Members of Congress vote for subsidies or other aid that they benefit from in their private capacity, then every dime must be disclosed in as real-time as possible. This helps preserve the institutional integrity of Congress,” Open The Books Chief Executive Officer and Founder Adam Andrzejewski said in the statement.
The NTU focuses on fighting wasteful federal spending and policies, while Open The Books wants all government expenditures available on the Internet.
Ernst has become known as the Senate’s most vocal foe of waste, fraud, and abuse since the retirement in 2014 of Sen. Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma Republican whose “Dr. No” nickname among colleagues reflected his frequent votes in opposition to measures he considered wasteful, unnecessary or frivolous. Coburn passed away earlier this year after a long battle with cancer.
Ernst regularly announces what she’s calls “Squeal Awards” to focus public attention on examples unearthed by her staff of government waste. She is also a co-sponsor of a bipartisan Senate proposal to end U.S. tax dollars being spent in China’s “wet markets” like the one in Wuhan from which the CCP Virus is believed to have spread.