A House Democrat appears to have been caught with her hand in the cookie jar.
The Washington Examiner reports that a congressional ethics watchdog has filed an ethics complaint against Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) for requesting a change in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) that financially benefited her husband’s business.
What did she do?
The PPP is a piece of legislation that was passed by Congress to help out businesses struggling financially from the economic effects of the coronavirus. It did so by giving businesses forgivable loans so that they can keep employees employed.
Lee and her husband are holders of more than $1 million of shares in the gaming company Full House Resorts, a small business. Lee wrote a letter to the Small Business Association (SBA), which had been overseeing the PPP loans, requesting that Full House Resorts and similar companies be eligible for the aid.
“For the SBA to take the position that these small businesses are not eligible for needed aid because of their involvement in the gaming industry belies the economic realities of their location and will doom countless small businesses in Nevada to bankruptcy,” Lee argued in a letter to the SBA in April.
Shortly after Lee’s request was made, the PPP was amended and Full House Resorts became eligible for the financial help, receiving forgivable loans in the amount of $5.6 million. And, in turn, she and her husband have benefited by shares in the company going from 53 cents apiece to $2.
The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) has now filed a complaint pointing out what appears to be an obvious ethics violation.
“Conflict of interest laws are some of the oldest and most important ethics laws on the books,” said Kendra Arnold, the head of FACT. “This appears to be a fairly straightforward violation.”
She continued: “Lee couldn’t be any more directly tied to the company through both her own and her husband’s interests, and she advocated for regulatory changes that would, and in fact did, benefit the company. The [Office of Congressional Ethics] needs to thoroughly investigate this case as soon as possible.”
Lee has since responded to the allegations she is now facing, denying knowledge of and involvement in what happened.
“She is not involved in any aspect of Full House’s business or decision-making,” the representative said. “She had no influence over the decision to file the application, and she had no influence over whether or not that application was approved or denied. The conditions and details under which Full House Resorts received its PPP loan are entirely between Full House Resorts and regulators.”
FACT has hit back arguing that none of this matters, that ethics rules require that there is not “even an inference of a conflict,” and that there was at least that.