Pro-Trump lobbyists worked with firms that received small business relief loans

Key Points
  • Lindblad Expeditions and Laundrylux Distribution, two companies that hired Trump-linked lobbyists Jeff Miller and Brian Ballard, received millions of dollars in small business relief loans.
  • A Laundrylux representative denied that there was any link between Ballard's lobbying and the loans that they've received.
  • Kasowitz Benson Torres, co-founded by longtime Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz, received a loan worth between $5 million and $10 million. 
U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he attends South Dakota's U.S. Independence Day Mount Rushmore fireworks celebrations at Mt. Rushmore in Keystone, South Dakota, U.S., July 3, 2020.
Tom Brenner | Reuters

Two businesses got millions of dollars in government coronavirus relief loans as a group of pro-Trump lobbyists actively worked on their behalf. 

Lindblad Expeditions and Laundrylux Distribution, which hired lobbyists Jeff Miller and Brian Ballard, both of whom have close ties to President Donald Trump, received loans worth millions of dollars, according to a partial list of small businesses that took part in the administration's Paycheck Protection Program.

A Laundrylux representative denied that there was any link between Ballard's lobbying and the loan that it received. 

The Treasury Department and Small Business Administration released on Monday the list of companies that received the federal aid. 

Lindblad is a New York-based cruise company with destinations including Alaska, Costa Rica, Egypt and the British Isles. It received between $5 million and $10 million in loans. Laundrylux, a New York-based commercial laundry machine company whose services include equipment rentals and marketing tools for laundry businesses, received between $1 million and $2 million in loans. 

Law firms with ties to Trump also saw loans from the federal assistance program. Kasowitz Benson Torres, founded by longtime Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz, saw a loan between $5 and $10 million. The American Center for Law and Justice, whose chief counsel is Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow, got between $1 million and $2 million. Kasowitz's firm and Sekulow defended Trump during the president's impeachment hearings. 

The laundry company, according to a lobbying disclosure report, paid $30,000 to Ballard's firm, Ballard Partners, in the first quarter of 2020 to work the Trump administration with the goal of "designation as essential business in response to COVID-19 virus," the document says. Essential businesses were often allowed to stay open during the start of the pandemic while many who were deemed nonessential were forced to close. 

The form shows that Ballard, a lobbyist who recently raised over $560,000 for the Trump Victory joint fundraising committee, along with Daniel McFaul, a partner at the firm, engaged with the Department of Homeland Security and White House representatives. Ballard is a regional vice chair for the Republican National Committee. Laundrylux later announced on its website that Homeland Security recognized laundromats and similar services to be essential. 

Miller's firm, Miller Strategies, helped Lindblad on "issues as they relate to the impacts of COVID-19 on the cruise and travel industry." Miller was the California campaign chair for former Secretary of Energy Rick Perry's 2012 run for president. He recently became the vice finance chair for the 2020 Republican convention. He recently helped raise $1.4 million for Trump Victory.

Sven-Olof Lindblad, the CEO of the cruise company, wrote in an op-ed in May that they had returned the loan after receiving widespread scrutiny. 

The cruise industry was hit particularly hard in the wake of the pandemic. Data from FactSet shows that many of the top cruise lines, from Carnival to Norwegian, saw their first-quarter financial performance drop by up to 81%. 

Neil Milch, the executive chairman and owner of Laundrylux, told CNBC in an unprompted email that the lobbying effort was not linked to the loan that they received. Milch reached out after CNBC contacted Ballard's firm.

"Our application for PPP had nothing whatsoever to do with Ballard's representation of us and our industry. Our concern was that millions of people who completely rely on laundromats for clothing sanitation would be in serious trouble if they were all shut down," Mitch said. "This is March/April time frame. We NEVER consulted Ballard on PPP; had nothing to do with them." 

A representative for Ballard declined to comment. Miller and a spokeswoman for Lindblad did not respond to a request for comment. The Treasury and SBA did not respond to requests for comment. 

The lobbying effort by Ballard, Miller and their teams for these companies was just a fraction of the work they did as the pandemic swept across the country. 

Data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics shows that Ballard's firm made over $5.2 million from January through March, their biggest first quarter ever.

Miller's firm also had success in the early part of this year. Data shows that they made at least $2.7 million in the first quarter, more than any other quarter since 2017. 

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