Both sides serve up PPP allegations in testy HD 84 contest
Dana Trabulsy

Dana Trabulsy
Democrats took money, but so did the Republican's husband.

Who used Paycheck Protection Program funding for what has gripped dialogue in House District 84.

Rep. Delores Hogan Johnson made clear she never saw any benefit from a loan wrongly given to the Florida Democratic Party. Republican challenger Dana Trabulsy, meanwhile, fended off criticism her husband’s business utilized the federal program.

It’s a sign of how the subject of coronavirus relief seeped into dialogue around one of Florida’s most competitive House races.

Through Oct. 2, about a month out from the General Election, incumbent Hogan Johnson reports she has $56,174 in cash on hand, compared to Trabulsy’s $47,328. But Trabulsy has spent $3,353 more on the race so far.

Trabulsy also received $35,183 worth of support so far from the Republican Party of Florida, a sign the GOP believes it’s possible to flip this seat from blue to red.

The Florida Democratic Party has provided $20,663 in support for Hogan Johnson in some form, whether cash or staff support.

That’s seen as a bit more than a show of interest. The PPP loan to the party, first reported by Florida Politics, generated substantial controversy. In July, the state party returned all the dough, at least $780,000 in business loans.

That money was never intended for political purposes, and party leaders said it was never used for that. But Republicans have raised the question of party accounting in multiple races.

That includes Trabulsy running ads in the Port St. Lucie media market using the matter to attack Hogan Johnson.

“There’s been a little bit of contention,” Trabulsy acknowledged. “We raised the issue through TV ads this week.”

But Hogan Johnson’s campaign pushed back hard on tying her to the party scandal.

“My campaign has never solicited nor accepted PPP money,” Johnson said, “but Trabulsy’s husband and campaign treasurer is CFO of Southern Eagle Distributing, the largest alcoholic beverage distributor on the Treasure Coast, which solicited and received a loan up to $5 million dollars while our small businesses were denied.”

That’s a reference to Paul Trabulsy, a CPA, who gave his wife $1,000 donations for the Republican primary and General Election. Southern Eagle Distributing also gave maximum donations for both cycles.

But Dana Trabulsy said that money was intended to help small businesses, and that’s how the company used its PPP loan. Without the money, she said it’s likely 26 employees would have lost their pay as the company furloughed on-site workers. No PPP dollars were spent on Trabulsy’s political ambitions, either through the company or her spouse, she said.

“I think her attack back is a bit of a diversion,” Trabulsy said. “Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, which is that the Democratic Party took PPP and it was illegal.”

Hogan Johnson still saw a more direct connection and serious questions about why a company in need of a bailout was also giving major contributions to a local political campaign.

“Why in a period of record sales for alcohol in retail stores would they solicit and accept funds meant to save jobs that were on the line and then make multiple campaign contributions with them?” Hogan Johnson said.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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