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Corona Economics

Florida Democratic Party among those receiving Paycheck Protection Program money

Federal PPP money also went to sports, arts, associations

Yes, political groups got federal Paycheck Protection Program money too.

So did lobbying and law firms, a few statewide public policy associations, a small handful of labor unions, professional sports franchises, performing arts companies, libraries, art museums, churches, synagogues, mosques, and thousands of Florida small businesses.

The Florida Democratic Party Building Fund was among the 42,218 Florida small businesses and nonprofits that applied for and received forgivable PPP loans under the CARES Act approved this spring to help them get through the coronavirus crisis. So did the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation and a handful of statewide public policy associations.

PPP was created in March by Florida’s senior U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and other leaders on his Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, including Democrats, to help small businesses and nonprofits survive the economic collapse of the coronavirus crisis.

In June, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin initially said the identifications of individual businesses and nonprofits that received PPP money would not be publicly identified. However, the administration relented, and the information was released Monday under the Freedom of Information Act, with a database of more than 661,000 nationally.

The data that was publicly released only offers ranges of loans made, under the assumption that release of more detailed information could create competition issues for small businesses.

According to the PPP database, the Florida Democratic Party Building Fund received somewhere between $350,000 and $1 million in order to protect 100 jobs.

“Congress passed PPP to help ensure employers maintained payroll during this crisis and to keep people employed — and that’s exactly what FDP did,” a Florida Democratic Party spokesperson said in a brief written statement.

FDP’s use of the program was called out by the Republican Party, which highlighted a May statement by FDP Chair Terrie Rizzo.

“Donald Trump has done almost nothing to help our small businesses. His PPP program has been a disaster, funneling hundreds of dollars to large corporations,” Rizzo is quoted as saying in a tweet.

Republicans cast FDP’s loan as hypocritical in a press release stating, “In May, Florida Democrats chastised President Trump’s Paycheck Protection Program. Today, we find out that Terrie Rizzo and her corrupt Florida Democrats gladly accepted money from the program, taking anywhere from $350,000 to $1,000,000 away from deserving Florida small businesses.

“Bottom Line: President Trump delivers for all Americans including the Florida Democrats, who relied on the relief funding to stay afloat because there is no enthusiasm for their party.”

But Florida Democrats weren’t the only political organization to receive a PPP loan.

A group called the Black Republican Caucus of Florida, based in Boca Raton, received between $150,000 and $350,000 in order to protect 11 jobs. However, the Republican Party of Florida indicated the group is not affiliated with the state party in any way, and is not a sanctioned club.

The Black Republican Caucus of Florida did not respond to inquiries from Florida Politics.

Of the 42,218 Florida recipients of PPP loans, 195 small businesses and nonprofits received between $5 million and $10 million. Another 1,186 between $2 million and 5 million; 2,862 received between $1 million and $2 million; 11,988 between $350,000 and $1 million; and 25,987 between $150,000 and $350,000.

Among them:

The Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation received between $150,000-$350,000. That organization, which is a 501(C)(3) and eligible for the program (as opposed to the Florida Chamber, which is not), actually received $182,000, to support the efforts of eight full-time staff and others who are doing small business and workforce research, and also conducting studies into such things as ending generational poverty in Florida, said Edie Ousley, the Florida Chamber’s Vice President of Public Affairs.

The Florida Association of Community Health Centers in Tallahassee received between $150,000 and $350,000 to save 13 jobs; the Florida High School Athletic Association in Gainesville received between $350,000 and $1 million to save 25 jobs; the Florida Immigrant Coalition of Miami received between $350,000 and $1 million to save 121 jobs; two chapters of the International Longshoremen’s Association, Locals 1416 and 1922, each received between $150,000 and $350,000. Each was protecting nine jobs.

Orlando City Soccer Holdings, owner of the Orlando City Lions MLS team, received between $2 million and $5 million to save 300 jobs; while the Miami Football Club, that city’s USL team, received between $350,000 and $1 million to protect 38 jobs. The South Florida Racing Association, received between $2 million and $5 million to protect an undisclosed number of jobs.

Dozens of arts groups also scored grants.

They include the Palm Beach Opera, which got a loan between $350,000 and $1 million to save 310 jobs; the South Florida Symphony Orchestra in Wilton Manors, which received between $150,0000 and $350,000 to save 275 jobs; the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, which picked up between $150,000 and $350,000 to save 57 jobs; the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation in Pensacola, which received between $1 million and $2 million to save 142 jobs; the Jorge M. Perez Art Museum of Miami-Dade County which received between $1 and $2 million to save 93 jobs; the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, which received between $350,000 and $1 million to save 89 jobs; the Sarasota Ballet of Florida which received between $350,000 and $1 million to save 89 jobs; the Theater of the Sea in Islamorada, which received $350,000 to $1 million to save 75 jobs; and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville, which received between $150,000 and $350,000 to save 33 jobs.

Following the release of the PPP database, Rubio issued a statement emphasizing the need for transparency as Congress contemplates further relief funding.

“Today, the Administration has provided much needed transparency to the American people on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP),” Rubio said. “We know PPP has been a historic lifeline for more than 4.8 million small businesses. It is clear that financial damage from the pandemic will continue to impact small businesses even as the economy re-opens.

“To meet these changing conditions, PPP and additional long-term recovery capital must be the priority for the next relief package. I will continue to work with my colleagues on the small business task force to reach a bipartisan agreement on a targeted second round of PPP for underserved firms and for additional resources for long-term resiliency.”

If the nation’s unemployment rate is an indication, the PPP did indeed save jobs. After soaring to 14.7% in April, it fell to 13.3% in May and 11.1% in June as businesses reopened.

It’s not known what impact the surge in cases of coronavirus this past month will have on employee hiring and retention, however, the volume of new unemployment applications has barely fallen, indicating a stalled labor market.

As of Sunday, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity had received unemployment applications from 2.63 million unique individuals

Florida is among the states experiencing a rapid rise in coronavirus cases, both nominally and in the percentage of positive tests that come back positive. On Monday, the state reported an additional 6,336 COVID-19 cases, reaching a total of 206,447 to date.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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