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Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) worked to include an exception in the coronavirus relief bill earlier this year that benefited the client of her former longtime aide, according to ProPublica.

  • Michael Bopp, a former Collins aide, was recruited by EOS investors, a New York company that invests in hotels, to secure an exception to the bill so that hotel chains would be eligible for aid.
  • ProPublica reported that "Bopp was Collins’ legislative director and general counsel from 1999 to 2003 and chief counsel to the Senate homeland security committee from 2003 to 2006, while Collins was chair," and also "served as outside counsel to Collins’ campaign."
  • The original proposal for the bill limited relief to companies that had less than 500 employees. However, EOS figured that if the cap was limited to employees in each hotel location rather than company-wide, then it could stand to benefit at multiple properties. This included “the collection of resorts that EOS had recently acquired in Kennebunkport, Maine.”
  • The resulting Paycheck Protection Program has been criticized for favoring well-established companies over the mom-and-pop businesses it was designed to help. The March bill was one of the most lobbied ever and led to record lobbying spending.
  • Christopher Knight, a spokesman for Collins, responded to the criticism:

“Is it really surprising that a Senator who represents ‘Vacationland’ would try to help the hospitality sector and all of the workers it employs? During the drafting process, our office was contacted by hundreds of small business owners, small business organizations, and others who were concerned about the impact that mitigation measures to contain the virus would have on their businesses and their employees.”

  • The final version of the bill ended up allowing the exception, and Collins took credit for it, telling a Maine radio host:

“I was able to get an exception included in the bill. And I think it’s made a real difference to some of our restaurants and hotels in Maine that are locally owned and needed that kind of relief.”

  • Researchers have found that the bill had a disparate impact on the companies that received relief. Researchers from Harvard and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign wrote in a National Bureau of Economic Research paper:

“Firms with stronger connections to banks were more likely to have their applications approved, while firms more negatively affected by COVID and with less cash-on-hand were less likely to be approved, suggesting that lending to bank customers in better financial positions may have been prioritized, possibly crowding out less connected firms that would have had greater benefits from the loans.”

Read the full report.