The following first appeared in the Political Newsletter Buzz, a weekly dive into the power, politics and influence shaping Florida by political editor Steve Contorno and the Tampa Bay Times political team. To subscribe and receive it in your mailbox every week, Click here.
This week we got our first look at the $ 521 billion the federal government gave to businesses under the Paycheck Protection Program. There were interesting recipients.
Step back for a second. What is this pot of money? The paycheck protection program is part of the stimulus package that Congress created and that President Donald Trump signed on to save the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic. As businesses closed and workers were sent home, Congress offered business loans to stay afloat. Lawmakers wanted the program to encourage employers to keep employees in the hopes that the economic suffering from the pandemic would be temporary. If companies avoid layoffs, they don’t have to repay the loan.
Hundreds of thousands of businesses took advantage and federal officials claim it saved 51 million jobs (although, there are reasons to doubt that). Here are some of the businesses in the Tampa Bay area who received appreciable help. Oh, and celebrities like Tim mcgraw and Reese witherspoon Apparently got help too.
In Florida, we’ve seen several politically connected businesses and organizations take advantage of the potentially free money. Here are a few that raised a few eyebrows.
It is a party. Are political parties a business? They employ people. Apparently, that was reason enough for the Florida Democratic Party to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan. And it was approved for $ 350,000 to $ 1 million.
Only one other political party in the state is listed as a recipient of any of these loans: the Ohio Democratic Party. The Florida Democrats were therefore quite an outlier among their counterparts. same some Democrats were uncomfortable with the arrangement.
Overnight, Democrats decided to return the money. Their spokesperson, Luisana Pérez Fernández, said the bank and the federal government “made a mistake in approving the funding, so we volunteered to return it.”
Something glass houses something. State Sen. Joe gruters, the president of the Florida Republican Party called on the Democrats to return the money. His accounting firm Sarasota also took up to $ 350,000 under the federal program. Gruters said it was different because his loan had helped a business, not a political party.
(We must also underline the Tampa Bay Times and its related companies received $ 8.5 million under the program. We explained the details of our loan when it was first approved. You can read about it here.)
Benefits of Congress. Trump has waived a rule that could have prevented lawmakers from seeking coronavirus relief for themselves. And some members of Congress seem to have benefited from it.
For example, three car dealerships owned by US Rep. Vern Buchanan received up to $ 7 million in loans. Buchanan, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, is a partner in the company and his stake in the concessions is worth more than $ 125 million. You can find out more here, including Buchanan’s response to our questions.
Meanwhile, one of Trump’s main supporters in Congress, the US Representative. Matt Gaetz, also had everything to gain from the program. A senior home care company that Gaetz lists in its financial disclosures has received up to $ 1 million, Politico reported.
And the Tampa law firm where US Rep. Kathy beaverThe husband of the husband is a partner who received between 5 and 10 million dollars. In a statement, Castor said she “was not involved in the company’s application or the granting of this loan.”
“Additionally, I voted for HR 6782, the TRUTH Act, to demand full transparency about who, where and how much has been received by small businesses and nonprofits,” she said. . “These are public funds and the public has a right to know who received taxpayer money.”
Small government for you, but not for me. The Florida Chamber of Commerce, a major supporter of Florida Republicans, received up to $ 350,000. So is the Florida TaxWatch Research Institute, an organization that often criticizes government spending.
Friendly Trump. Many companies close to the president and his advisers have received $$$. the Washington post and ProPublica listed a few: a law firm run by one of Trump’s main advocates in the Russia probe, a Kushner family real estate project, and a partner in a company in partnership with the Trump Organization on a hotel and residential tower in Hawaii.
Here’s another: American Media, publisher of National Enquirer. Boca Raton company accused of buying and killing stories that make Trump look bad, like his alleged affair with the Playboy model Karen mcdougal.
The US Treasury has made this data publicly available. You can browse it yourself here. If you find something that you think is a story, email the political editor. Steve contorno at [email protected]