Monty Bennett was just another faceless right-wing millionaire on the long list of high-dollar donors to Donald Trump — until he suddenly surfaced in April as the nation’s biggest bagger of government cash in the emergency Paycheck Protection Program.
The PPP is the $660 billion rescue package for America’s thousands of small businesses, helping them keep people employed during today’s shutdown of the U.S. economy due to the coronavirus pandemic. Bennett was among the first in line for payroll relief, applying for $126 million and immediately getting about 55% of that. But wait. There’s nothing mom-and-popish about Monty’s business. Operating through a maze of tightly interwoven financial trusts and corporate subsidiaries, he runs a sprawling Dallas-based conglomerate named Ashford Inc. that owns and operates 130 hotels and luxury resorts across the country including the Marriott Beverly Hills and the Ritz-Carlton in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
How does a multibillion-dollar empire get such payments while legitimate small businesses are shut out? The old-fashioned way: by paying lobbyists and lawmakers to rig the rules so corporate thieves can raid the treasury. Bennett, a major donor to Trump and GOP Congress critters, pressured his political henchmen and hired two lobbying firms in March to punch a huge conglomerate loophole in the PPP bill. Led by Sen. Marco Rubio, Congress inserted a special-interest proviso decreeing that while a big business cannot apply for payments, each unit of the corporation can.
So ... gotcha! In early April, before most of America’s Main Street enterprises even knew relief was available, Ashford Inc.’s squad of manipulators was running all-night sessions for its hotels, getting them to rush out “individual” applications. This twisting of the PPP fund made the slick Dallas hotelier king of Bailout Hill, having scooped up 339 times more than the average applicant.
In addition to stiffing small businesses, Bennett balked at the requirement that the bulk of taxpayer dollars be used to maintain the paychecks of Ashford hotel employees. Instead, he loudly insisted that government aid should be available to bolster corporate owners — i.e., him.
Did you know that “boss” spelled backward is double SOB?
There’s a general sentiment today that multimillionaire corporate chieftains are pigs. But I think that’s unfair — to pigs. Those oinkers are remarkably intelligent animals with a sense of social responsibility to the common good of the group.
Compare that ethic to the pompous and petulant sense of entitlement that seems to infest corporate executive suites today. For one extra-ugly example, when Bennett grabbed millions meant for small businesses, it was so ethically stinky that even the thievish Trumpistas made him return the money. Yet, a shameless Bennett continues to insist that he was just taking his corporation’s fair share: “What are all those taxes we paid supposed to provide us with anyway?” he whined.
Well, Monty, maybe a literate workforce, clean water, paved streets, fire and police protection, and other public basics that subsidize your profit. But our taxes aren’t meant to (SET ITAL) guarantee (END ITAL) your profit. Bennett flaunts his cluelessness: “I won’t apologize for being a capitalist in America,” he wrote in March as he pushed his way to the front of the line demanding a taxpayer handout.
Worse, he’s apparently a very poor capitalist, having saddled his corporate empire with an unsustainable debt load even before the coronavirus catastrophe struck. Last year, the Ashcroft trust that he heads had a $113 million loss and saw its stock value nosedive from $5.60 a share to barely 70 cents today. Yet, he took special care of himself, pulling down $5.7 million in personal pay last year.
Meanwhile, Monty the Unapologetic Capitalist is still grabbing government goodies. He and his lobbyists have helped push Trump & Co. to create a new $500 billion pot of cash exclusively reserved as “emergency aid” for giant corporations ... like his. And, sweetest of all, Bennett and his ilk can take this public money with no requirement to use any of it to protect the paychecks or save the jobs of employees. Indeed, they can use our money to raise their own pay! In CEO World, taking care of No. 1 is Priority No. 1. Then, as a second priority, repeat Priority No. 1.
Jim Hightower is a columnist, political activist and author who served as commissioner of Texas Department of Agriculture.