An exclusive California golf course that has counted Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin among its members is seeing plenty of the taxpayers’ green.
The Riviera Country Club, located in a posh enclave of Los Angeles, received $2 million to $5 million in assistance through the Paycheck Protection Program—a multibillion-dollar initiative intended to carry small businesses and their employees through the COVID-19 pandemic. Mnuchin, whose Department of the Treasury has assisted in the operation of the program, disclosed his membership in the elite institution to the U.S. Senate during his confirmation process in 2017. The Small Business Administration released PPP recipient data on Monday amid mounting pressure to do so.
Neither the Riviera nor the Department of the Treasury immediately responded to a request for comment, making it impossible to confirm whether Mnuchin is still involved with the organization. But Politico reported in April 2018 that the Treasury Secretary had been sighted at the establishment, which is famed for its celebrity clientele, its top-notch course, and for annually hosting the Los Angeles Open. Mnuchin attended that yearly event at the Riviera in 2019, according to USA Today.
Golf writer Geoff Shackelford first noted Riviera’s receipt of the low-interest loan on his personal blog on Tuesday.
The SBA data indicates that the Riviera reported having Asian and female ownership. The club’s own website identifies its owner as Noboru Watanabe, a male real estate magnate based in Tokyo. The most recent California corporate records list Noboru Watanabe as the CEO of the club’s ownership entity, and Megan Fujiko Watabe as the company’s secretary and chief financial officer. It is unclear, however, whether the latter has any stake in the club.
A LinkedIn page apparently belonging to Noboru Watanabe describes his business as “a Japan-based lifestyle company with more than 2,000 employees in Japan, the United States, and China.”
PPP was specifically designed to assist companies with 500 workers on payroll or fewer. However, byzantine business structures have enabled a number of large firms to obtain the federal funds—though public outcry has prompted a few big corporations to return the money.
The Riviera is hardly the only well-connected company to benefit from PPP. The Daily Beast identified scads of for-profit and nonprofit operations tied to members of Congress, current and former White House aides, and political vendors and lobbyists associated with members of both parties. Millions more went to the Church of Scientology and other religious institutions.
The country club reported that the federal aid preserved 159 jobs. California was one of a handful of states to close golf courses at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, though the Riviera has since reopened. Its caddies got a private sector bailout even before the federal funds arrived: comedy legend Larry David, a member, started a GoFundMe to support the tipped workers in March.