Democratic Party backs off PPP loans
TALLAHASSEE – After elected members of the Florida Democratic Party express “ethical concerns” about political organizations taking federal money meant to help small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, party officials are returning loan funds in Washington.
“Returning the funds was absolutely the right decision to take,” Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said on a conference call Thursday morning, hours after the decision was announced.
“You’ve seen a lot of our big businesses get big money, and a lot of our small businesses didn’t get the funding, were underfunded,” continued Fried, the only democrat elected statewide. “(I really wish there had been more upstream responsiveness to help so many of these small businesses and put more metrics in place.”
The state party applied for and received the interest-free loan, which was listed as over $ 350,000, shortly after Congress approved the paycheck protection program in April. Party officials said they applied because of concerns over payroll compliance and employee retention.
After the list of loan recipients was made public this week, several Democratic lawmakers criticized the party for taking money intended to help small businesses and nonprofits during the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. .
Miami-Dade County lawyer Senator Jason Pizzo said political organizations seeking and accepting so-called PPP money should return it quickly, citing “legal and ethical concerns.”
Pizzo suggested that the party’s decision should open him up to “partisan clashes that only serve to challenge the integrity of his party.”
Representative Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, agreed with Pizzo and said, “The PPP was created for small businesses and nonprofits who were desperate for support during COVID-19, not for them. political organizations. “
Senator Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, added: “As a proud owner of a small business, I am appalled that anyone thinks this was morally or ethically correct, let alone politically astute!”
After criticism, the party released a statement saying it would forgo the money.
“The bank, credit processor and officers of the Small Business Association have approved the funding,” party spokeswoman Luisana Perez Fernandez said in the statement. “Now it looks like they made a mistake in approving the funding, so we volunteered to return it.”
The party’s loan was revealed in a long-awaited Small Business Administration data dump on Monday, with information showing how politically-related businesses and nonprofits have benefited from the program. US Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Was an architect of the PPP loan program.
The recipient list also included a number of businesses linked to Republican state lawmakers.
Robinson Gruters & Roberts accounting firm, where Florida GOP President Joe Gruters works, and Panama City representative Jay Trumbull’s firm, Trumbull Water Solutions, each received at least $ 150,000 in interest-free loans. Gruters doubles as a Sarasota County Senator.
New Senate Speaker Wilton Simpson’s asbestos removal firm, Simpson Environmental Services, has received between $ 350,000 and $ 1 million in small business loans, data shows.
Caregivers Inc., a senior home care company run by the family of Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz, has received at least $ 350,000, according to reports. Gaetz, a staunch ally of President Donald Trump, listed the company on his Congressional financial disclosure form.
Advertising money is flowing
A political committee linked to the Environmental Defense Fund opened its bank account for the presidential contest in Florida.
EDF Action Votes released a $ 1.7 million television ad in the Tampa market on Wednesday, focusing on Trump claiming climate change was a “hoax.”
A campaign arm of the Environmental Defense Fund, EDF Action, got involved in a presidential campaign for the first time in January because of what it described as “the anti-scientific and anti- Trump’s environmental impact, which has been disastrous for the planet and the public. health.”
Interdependent organizations target Florida because it is the largest state in the presidential swing and Tampa because of the size of its media market and polls that show Trump has a slight lead in the market.
“The market was decisive in the races for the Senate and for the governors of 2018, as well as in the presidential race of 2016”, indicates a press release from EDF Action.
The announcement came as Trump’s campaign plans to spend heavily on ads to run from Labor Day to Election Day in six swing states – Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arizona.
Add school reopens to the list
Democratic lawmakers have called for weeks for a special legislative session on issues such as the economic impacts of the coronavirus. The problems may have widened this week when Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran ordered public schools to reopen the center for in-person classes.
“We are ready, willing and able to return for a special session to address many other impacts this virus was having on our state, including things like education where our counties do not agree with the announcement. from the Department of Education that everyone should come back. in class in the fall, ”said the new Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer of D-Fort Lauderdale.
Other topics Farmer said Democrats would like to address: a rigorous coronavirus testing and tracing program; transparency on the hospital impacts of the virus; the unemployment system; and the financing of electoral security.
But Republican leaders have made it clear they have no plans to hold a special session anytime soon. Among other things, they argue that no immediate action is needed on the state budget due to reserves, federal refunds and budget cuts by Governor Ron DeSantis.