Political news site Axios announced Tuesday evening that it would return a federal pandemic loan, becoming the latest company to return funds amid controversy around big companies hoarding bailouts.
In a post to the site, Axios CEO Jim VandeHei cited a "public backlash against a variety of companies for taking" money from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), "including us." He also explained that a "new alternative source" of capital had emerged, giving the news site the "confidence" to return the PPP funds.
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VandeHei did not disclose in Tuesday's post what the "new alternative source" of capital is. Axios has received generous financial support in past, including from NBC News and liberal activist and philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs who had an estimated net worth of over $20 billion.
As recently as December, the site expected to raise $20 million in an "opportunistic" round of fundraising, possible in part because it claimed to still be sitting on most of the $20 million it had raised in 2017.
The site, which employs some 190 individuals, previously qualified for $4.8 million in loans from the PPP, a program set up by Congress to provide forgivable loans to cover the payrolls of small businesses adversely affected by the coronavirus crisis. The loan was, according to Axios‘s own reporting, larger than those received by over 99 percent of other companies—not counting the thousands who applied for, but were denied, PPP funding before the program ran dry several weeks ago.
VandeHei had previously written that the money had been used to make up for shortfalls in revenue due to the closing down of Axios‘s events business. Axios did not provide an answer to questions from the Washington Free Beacon about whether or not the site had sought alternative funds from its wealthy backers before applying for a government loan, as the Treasury Department recently instructed businesses to do before seeking PPP loans. VandeHei did tell the Daily Beast that no one at the site would be taking a pay cut, including himself.
VandeHei blamed Tuesday's reversal on the increasing political tension around PPP loans. Many wealthy businesses—including hedge funds, chains like Ruth's Chris and Shake Shack, and universities like Harvard—have run afoul of the media and popular criticism for taking loans for which they technically qualified, but which deprived other firms of access to the PPP's limited pool of funds.
Axios, by contrast, had largely avoided increased scrutiny by its media peers. VandeHei alleged that critics thought that media firms or venture-backed firms should seek funding elsewhere; he made no mention of his site's wealthy supporters.