Lobbyists, Political Consultants Sue U.S. for Coronavirus Bailout

(Bloomberg) --

A group representing political consultants, pollsters and lobbyists sued the U.S. government for a slice of the $2.2 trillion Covid-19 bailout pie.

Strippers are also lawyering up to get a piece of the action -- and like the consultants, they say their free-speech rights are being trampled.

In separate complaints Monday, the Virginia-based American Association of Political Consultants and four Milwaukee exotic dance clubs argued the exclusion of their lines of work from the small business loans included in the stimulus bill Congress passed last month in response to the coronavirus pandemic was unconstitutional.

Like the consultants, the dancers want access to $349 billion in “forgivable loans” provided for companies with fewer than 500 employees. The program excludes various businesses including non-profits, strip clubs and those “primarily engaged in political or lobbying activities.” Business owners who’ve been convicted of felonies in the last five years are also ineligible.

The Small Business Administration, which administers the loan program, made an exception to its rules to allow churches to apply for the loans.

The lobbyists and consultants say they’re entitled to an exception, too. Without the loans, they “will be forced to abstain or substantially limit the exercise of their constitutional right to freedom of speech, particularly speech in the height of political campaigns,” according to their complaint.

The Milwaukee strip clubs note that similar venues elsewhere in the U.S. already have had their loan applications rejected. They say this could lead to the “permanent ruination” of their businesses, citing “the inability of plaintiffs to engage in protected First Amendment activity, and the inability of plaintiffs’ staff, entertainers, and customers to continue engaging in or viewing protected First Amendment activity.”

Carol R. Wilkerson, press director for the Small Business Administration, declined to comment Monday.

“We do not comment on pending litigation,” she said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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