Billionaire musician and designer Kanye West received money from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), according to federal data released on Monday. The Trump administration approved West’s apparel company, Yeezy LLC, for a $5 million loan funded by taxpayer dollars. He’s not the only ultra-wealthy entity to receive government assistance, either. The US Small Business Administration (SBA) found that the Church of Scientology, celebrity pop artist Jeff Koons, and billionaire property developer (and prominent Republican fundraiser) Joe Farrell all got PPP loans, too.
The PPP, passed by Congress in March, was intended to help small businesses. Bloomberg recently estimated Yeezy to be worth $3 billion. But West’s apparel brand took a loan for up to $5 million, to retain 106 jobs during the pandemic. Here’s the thing: West holds a 100 percent stake in his company, and Forbes recently confirmed he’s a certified billionaire. While the influential money magazine noted a lot of West’s wealth is tied up in real estate (he owns a pair of multi-million dollar ranches in Wyoming, remember), it wouldn’t be that hard to liquidate $5 million in assets and pay your employees yourself. (We wonder how many salaries a herd of 14 Friesian horses is worth, for example.) Well, I guess we can deduce one of Kanye West’s policy views as a presidential candidate: government assistance for billionaires.
The Church of Scientology, reportedly worth at least $1 billion, also received PPP money. Its locations in New York, Florida, and Washington, DC, received loans of up to $350,000 each to support 137 jobs. The founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, made recruiting celebrities a stated goal of the organization, and the church claims A-list actors among its members. Again, Scientology probably doesn’t need taxpayer dollars when one of its congregants can afford to shoot a movie in space.
Jeff Koons’s iconic metal balloon animal sculptures regularly fetch tens of millions of dollars at auction. But he was also approved for a $2 million loan supporting 53 jobs. Similarly, Francis Ford Coppola, legendary filmmaker of The Godfather franchise, received millions in PPP funding — though at least a few million went towards keeping his wine making business afloat.
The SBA found it literally pays to be chummy with the president, too. Joe Farrell is a real estate developer in New York’s exclusive Hamptons beachfront community who’s thrown fundraising parties for Donald Trump. Farrell received a loan of up to a million dollars, intended to retain 41 jobs. Meanwhile, Farrell rented out his own 17,000-square-foot, $40 million Hamptons mansion for nearly $2 million to a wealthy Manhattan family looking to escape coronavirus for six months.
Watchdog groups quickly condemned the Trump administration giving government dollars to big business interests. "PPP was sold to the American people as a program to help Mom-and-Pop shops keep their lights on during the pandemic," Kyle Herrig, president of watchdog organization Accountable.US, told NBC News via email. "The reality is that the Trump administration created a program that helped the well connected cut to the front of the line to get these loans."