Lone watchdog overseeing coronavirus relief demands to know where taxpayer-funded money going as Trump doles out billions to corporations

Congressional official requests information on 'which private companies are getting taxpayer-backed support'


Chris Riotta
New York
Thursday 16 April 2020 19:02 BST
Donald Trump denies asking to put his name on coronavirus relief checks

The only member of a new congressional oversight commission tasked with overseeing the distribution of a massive coronavirus relief fund has demanded the government provide more details about where those taxpayer-funded dollars are being sent.

Bharat Ramamurti, the sole member of the commission and a former top staffer to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, said he wrote a letter to US Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell requesting “detailed and timely disclosures on every loan” disbursed as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“The Fed will soon lend trillions to companies,” the lone watchdog wrote in a tweet. “But it has not committed to disclosing which private companies are getting taxpayer-backed support.”

In his letter, Mr Ramamurti wrote that “the public deserves to know which companies are receiving taxpayer-backed lending through the Fed and on what terms”, according to the New York Times.

He also insisted taxpayers should be able “to monitor what those companies do after receiving taxpayer support” as part of the relief fund, created in an effort to reverse the historic economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

There are supposed to be five members on the bipartisan oversight commission selected by leaders from both of the major parties, but it remains without additional members even as the federal government begins doling out billions of dollars to companies impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Mr Ramamurti previously said he was “eager for the commission members to be named and for us to get up and running” after it was announced he would be serving on the congressional oversight group earlier this month.

“In the meantime, I’m trying to perform some oversight and use what tools I have available right now to start asking some basic questions,” he told Bloomberg in a statement. “Money is moving around in the blink of an eye and it[’s not at all clear what it all means and who it’s helping.”

Donald Trump has opposed oversight for the historic relief package, upending a panel tasked with overseeing its distribution within the Pentagon by removing ex-acting Pentagon watchdog Glenn Fine from the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.

Democrats have meanwhile slammed the president, with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer saying he was trying to get rid of “honest and independent public servants because they are willing to speak truth to power and because he is so clearly afraid of strong oversight”.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also said in a statement: “The sudden removal and replacement of Acting Inspector General Fine is part of a disturbing pattern of retaliation by the president against independent overseers fulfilling their statutory and patriotic duties to conduct oversight on behalf of the American people.”

Reports have already pointed at potential conflicts of interests in how the money was set to be disbursed, with another watchdog group alleging major airlines who donated to the president’s election were the first in line to receive billions of dollars worth of bail out funds.

Other provisions of the legislation have stirred controversy, including one which allows certain business owners - the majority of them millionaires - to receive an average windfall of $1.7m.

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