How has this hotel firm spent its PPP money? Eight members of Congress want to know

Eight members of Congress are calling on the Small Business Administration to investigate whether the operator of a luxury Santa Monica hotel and dozens of other properties properly spent tens of millions of dollars in pandemic relief funding.



a group of people that are talking on a cell phone: A group prays during an August demonstration supporting Margarita Santos, center, who was fired from her housekeeping job at the JW Marriott Santa Monica Le Merigot hotel. The hotel's operator, Columbia Sussex, received tens of millions of dollars in PPP loans. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)


© Provided by The LA Times
A group prays during an August demonstration supporting Margarita Santos, center, who was fired from her housekeeping job at the JW Marriott Santa Monica Le Merigot hotel. The hotel’s operator, Columbia Sussex, received tens of millions of dollars in PPP loans. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine) and seven of her Democratic colleagues issued a letter Tuesday urging the SBA to investigate how a hotel conglomerate that owns or operates at least 50 hotels spent the money it received — as much as $63 million — from the Paycheck Protection Program.

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The group of lawmakers said in the letter that the PPP was designed to keep workers employed but that the hotel company, Columbia Sussex, accepted the funding through multiple affiliates and still laid off thousands of workers.

“Columbia Sussex appears to have taken advantage of these policies — borrowing taxpayer money at artificially low interest rates through multiple entities while laying off workers,” their letter to SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza says.

Phone calls and emails to the Kentucky headquarters of Columbia Sussex were not returned Tuesday.

The PPP, part of the $2-trillion stimulus funding package approved by Congress in March, was promoted as a tool for keeping workers employed during the economic crisis. But experts, academics and union leaders told the Los Angeles Times that loopholes and flaws in the program allowed businesses to accept millions of dollars in forgivable loans without retaining or recalling most of their workers.

The program requires loan recipients to use at least 60% of the money on payroll and lets them wait as late as December to spend that money on payroll. If the recipient doesn’t follow the guidelines, the loan is no longer forgivable — but it converts to a low-interest loan that is much cheaper than loans offered by traditional lenders.

The PPP launched in April with $349 billion for forgivable loans. Congress added $320 billion later that month. The program ended Aug. 8 with more than $100 billion left unused.

Columbia Sussex, through affiliates, employed about 6,500 people nationwide before the pandemic. Porter and her colleagues accused the hotel conglomerate of receiving the PPP funding through 17 affiliates, registered at the same Kentucky address, and double counting employees of the various companies to justify the need for more PPP money.

The letter asks the SBA to investigate the 17 loans and respond by Monday.

Porter’s office said the call for an investigation is supported by Unite Here Local 11, which represents thousands of hotel workers in Southern California and Arizona. The union has been critical of the Columbia Sussex-operated JW Marriott Santa Monica Le Merigot hotel, accusing management of firing a housekeeper after she was infected with COVID-19 and of

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Rep. Kenny Marchant spent over $1,300 in campaign money at posh London hotel

The top Republican on the House Ethics Committee spent more than $1,300 in campaign funds at a five-star hotel in London, according to Federal Election Commission records examined by CQ Roll Call.



Kenny Marchant et al. looking at a laptop: Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Texas, spent campaign funds at a luxury hotel in London.


© Provided by Roll Call
Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Texas, spent campaign funds at a luxury hotel in London.

From 2018-2019, Texas Rep. Kenny Marchant’s campaign committee — Kenny Marchant for Congress — expended funds at The Royal Horseguards Hotel, a luxury hotel overlooking the River Thames positioned within walking distance to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. The hotel offers “Victorian grandeur combined with elegant, first class contemporary comfort,” and is “one of the finest hotels near Westminster,” according to the hotel’s website.

Luke Bunting, a spokesperson for Marchant, said the lawmaker has regularly participated in congressional delegation travel (CODEL). A CODEL is considered official travel, which is paid for or authorized by the House. Members and staff travel abroad in these CODELs.

“That figure reflects four separate transactions that occurred over a period of two years, with only one taking place during this Congress,” Bunting said in an email.

Two of the four expenditures at the hotel were described as “lodging” and the remaining two as “travel expense.”

“The Congressman has regularly participated in codel working trips abroad alongside fellow Members of Congress, with strict adherence to all FEC and ethics rules,” Bunting added. “This includes the House ethics rule that campaign funds may be used to ‘pay official or officially-related travel expenses’, and the FEC rule that funds may be used to ‘defray the ordinary and necessary expenses incurred in connection with an individual’s duties as of a federal officeholder.’ As is our practice, we will take another look at these expenses and provide any necessary updates.”

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When asked why, if Marchant was on a CODEL, shouldn’t all the expenses be paid out of committee funds, as well as what specific expenses Marchant was defraying, Bunting did not respond.

Tom Rust, a spokesperson for the House Ethics Committee, had no comment.

Federal law and House Rules prohibit members from using campaign funds for personal use.

When it comes to travel expenses, the FEC says: “Campaign funds may be used to pay the costs of travel to an activity that is related to the campaign or to the candidate’s duties as a federal officeholder.”

Daniel Weiner, a former Federal Election Commission attorney who is the deputy director of election reform at the Brennan Center for Justice, said it really depends on what the details of the specific expenditures were and there is a lot of deference afforded to candidates and officeholders when it comes to travel. 

“If it’s just a question of he was on official travel and he wanted to stay at a nicer hotel and so he used his campaign funds, you might

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