WASHINGTON — The Export-Import Bank has mischaracterized potentially hundreds of large companies and units of multinational conglomerates as small businesses, a flaw in its record keeping that could undermine the export lender’s survival strategy.
A Reuters analysis showed companies owned by billionaires such as Warren Buffett and Mexico’s Carlos Slim, as well by Japanese and European conglomerates, were listed as small businesses and Ex-Im acknowledged errors in its data in response to those findings.
Bank officials and supporters have used the Ex-Im’s support for American small business as a first line of defense against a campaign by conservatives to shut it down as an exponent of “crony capitalism.”
The bank won a nine-month extension of its mandate in September and faces a bruising battle over the next seven months to secure its future.
Critics reacted quickly.
“Rarely does Ex-Im miss a (public relations) opportunity to claim that it primarily helps small business, but Ex-Im is again playing fast and loose with the facts,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Financial Services Committee. “The bulk of Ex-Im’s help indisputably goes to large corporations that can finance their own operations without putting it on the taxpayer balance sheet.”
A comparison of about 6,000 businesses characterized by Ex-Im as “small” with information supplied by corporate data collector Dun & Bradstreet, which Ex-Im uses to vet applicants, and other sources turns up about 200 companies that appear to be mislabeled and many more whose classification is uncertain.