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Data: Maine PPP Recipients Include High-Powered Law Firms, Businesses With Ties To Lawmakers

Kevin Bennett
For Maine Public
Governor's Restaurant in Old Town offers grocery staples such as flour, sugar and bread for sale at its takeout window in May. Governor's Holding Inc., listed at the same address, received $350,000-$1 million, according to newly released PPP data.

A federal program designed to prevent layoffs and support small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic has provided $2.2 billion to more than 27,000 Maine companies, according to newly released loan data.

The data show that the recipients of the Paycheck Protection Program represent a wide swath of industries.

They include some of the hardest hit by restrictions designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as the hospitality and restaurant industries. But loans also went to some high-powered law firms, a sector that has not experienced a comparably high number of unemployment benefit claims, according to the latest data provided by the Maine Department of Labor.

The Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, was designed to preempt layoffs by providing forgivable, low-interest loans. The timing of the lending, the explosion in Maine unemployment claims and the limited release of loan data, make it difficult to determine whether the program disproportionately benefited one industry over another.

All told, Maine businesses classified as “construction” received about 13 percent of PPP loans distributed in the state, followed by “professional services” businesses accounting for 10 percent. Food services, health care and social services and retail services each received between 9 and 10 percent of the PPP loans.

The release of the data — kept secret by the Trump administration until Monday — has provided grist for political campaigns, including that of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican who helped draft the PPP legislation and who continues to tout it as she navigates a difficult reelection landscape. On Monday, Collins’s campaign and aligned Republican groups targeted Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon because her husband’s law firm, Berman and Simmons, received a PPP loan worth between $1 million and $2 million.

Gideon, a Democrat and the presumed frontrunner to challenge Collins in November, had criticized PPP for boosting larger corporations and special interest groups.

Nationally, the program has drawn scrutiny for initially running short on funds and for loan payouts to several large corporations, creating a public backlash that forced the U.S. Treasury Department to find ways to recoup millions of dollars in loans.

The newly released data provide just a glimpse of a program that has doled out $660 billion in loans so far. The data only show loans of more than $150,000 and in wide ranges instead of specific dollar amounts. The Trump administration claims that more than 80 percent of the loans were for less than $150,000.

In Maine, nearly 20 companies received loans between $5 million and $10 million, including Alcom LLC, a trailer manufacturer in Winslow, Crooker Construction, Husson University and Lee Holding Co., the parent company for several car dealerships. Lee Holding is owned by Adam Lee, a member of the Maine Public Broadcasting board of trustees.

Nationally and in Maine, car dealerships, medical offices and restaurants made up a significant number of loan recipients. Each industry had its operations severely limited or halted during lockdowns implemented as the virus began its rampage through the U.S.

The data released Monday does not include loans that have been returned. That includes S.W. Collins, a hardware business run by Sen. Collins’ two brothers. A spokesperson for Collins says that the business voluntarily returned its loan because it was allowed to stay open during the pandemic, and that Collins has no stake in the company.

In Maine, the PPP data show how many jobs were supported by the loans. However, some businesses left the field blank. A tally of the businesses that did report jobs supported suggest as many as 243,000 positions were financed by the loans.

Under the program, roughly 75 percent of the loan money was required to go toward workers’ paychecks.

Several Maine news media companies received PPP loans, including the Maine Public Broadcasting Corp. and the publisher of the Bangor Daily News, which each received between $1 million and $2 million. MTM Acquisition, owner of the Portland Press Herald, received a loan ranging between $2 million and $5 million.

According to the Associated Press, companies owned by legislative leaders also benefited, as did law firms with robust lobbying presence at the State House. Senate Republican leader Dana Dow’s furniture business in Waldoboro received assistance between $150,000 and $350,000, as did assistant GOP leader Jeffrey Timberlake’s two businesses, Ricker Hill Farms and Ricker Hill Orchards.

And the AP reported that Senate Democratic leader Nate Libby is a consultant to Community Concepts, Inc., which received a loan between $1 million and $2 million.

Well-known law firms who employ lobbyists at the State House also received loans between $2 million and $5 million. They include Bernstein, Shur, Sawyer & Nelson; Drummond & Woodsome; Pierce Atwood; and Preti, Flaherty, Beliveau & Pachios.

-- This story was updated July 7 at 8:55 p.m. to delete an Associated Press reference to Senate President Troy Jackson, who was not financially compensated by Fish River Health. 

Originally published 3:25 p.m. July 7, 2020.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.