By Adam Andrzejewski
Kanye West, Robert Redford, and Francis Ford Coppola weren’t the only entertainers with affiliated businesses or non-profits that reaped large Covid bailouts from Congress last year.
In 2006, Oprah Winfrey helped open the doors to the “Oprah Winfrey Boys & Girls Club of Kosciusko/Attal County” in the Mississippi town where she grew up.
In April 2020, that same club, named after one of the most well-known billionaires in the entire country, turned to the federal government to get a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan – backed by taxpayers – for $97,694.
Furthermore, the Oprah unit of the Boys & Girls Club of East Mississippi —under whose umbrella the Oprah Winfrey Boys & Girls Club in Kosciusko falls— received a federal PPP loan in the amount of $193,366.
The findings are the result of an audit of federal records by our organization at OpenTheBooks.com.
The two Oprah-connected charities list nearly $4 million in net assets on their latest IRS filings, here and here. Winfrey has generously donated millions of dollars to the groups since their founding.
Prior to its PPP funding, the groups had never taken federal funds, according to records since fiscal year 2008. (The federal database doesn’t currently detail spending prior to 2008).
Oprah has been generous throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, announcing her own $12 million donation for relief efforts in May of 2020. The Boys & Girls Club of East Mississippi received $115,000 of that money.
Both federal PPP loans to the Boys & Girls Club were forgivable – treated as a grant – as long as the businesses retained their employees and did not cut their paychecks.
We reached out to the CEO of both clubs, Ricky Hood for comment. Hood explained on a phone call that clubs “operate autonomously and Oprah Winfrey doesn’t involve herself in day-to-day operations.” Hood also confirmed that the first-round PPP loans were already forgiven and do not need to be repaid. The clubs did not apply for second round PPP funding.
If Winrey responds, we’ll update this piece with her comments or feedback.
This is not the first time a group connected to a big entertainer tapped into PPP’s taxpayer funds. When our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com mapped the big PPP loans(the nearly 83,000 loans between $1 million and $10 million), a few familiar names popped up.
Kanye West, who claims a net worth of $3.2 billion, took $2.4 million for his clothing and sneaker company, Yeezy LLC, which the Wall Street Journal noted had a value of $2.9 billion, with $1.5 billion in yearly revenues.
Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute received $3.04 million in PPP loans. The non-profit’s IRS 990 lists $55.4 million in assets (FY2018).
Two affiliated companies of the legendary Godfather director and vineyard owner Francis Ford Coppola received PPP funding, including Francis Ford Coppola Presents LLC ($7.3 million) and Niebaum Coppola Estate Winery, LP ($1.2 million).
These groups were eligible to receive PPP funds under the guidelines set by the Small Business Administration implementing the federal CARES Act passed by Congress in 2020. The PPP loan program was created to help businesses keep employees on their books and off unemployment during the coronavirus pandemic.
Many wealthy, influential, and politically networked people received first round PPP federal coronavirus bailout funding in the early days of the pandemic.
Critics contended that these connected businesses received funding that was unneeded and crowded out other businesses – like family-owned restaurants – whose doors were closed during the national lockdown.
The PPP program is up for possible renewal by Congress in May 2021.