A handful of elected Democrats in Florida are calling for their own state party to return federal assistance intended to help small businesses weather the coronavirus crisis.
In a tweet posted Wednesday, Sen. Jason Pizzo said there were legal and ethical concerns with political parties seeking and accepting money through the Paycheck Protection Program. Though he didn’t mention the Florida Democratic Party by name, the organization is one of two political parties in the country that received funds through the program, according to data available from the U.S. Treasury.
“They should promptly return the $$,” Pizzo, a Miami Democrat, said, “and refrain from partisan slights which only serve to impugn the integrity of one’s party.”
Pizzo’s comment drew immediate support on Twitter from two other Democrats, state Reps. Anna Eskamani of Orlando and Nicholas Duran of Miami.
The Paycheck Protection Program “was created for small businesses & nonprofits desperate for support during COVID19, not for political parties,” Eskamani wrote.
The state party applied for the federal loan through the Florida Democratic Party Building Fund, Inc. It’s a separate entity with the same leadership as the party, according to state business filings, and therefor may have a different tax status than the party, making it easier to secure the loan. On April 15, the party was approved for a loan for between $350,000 to $1 million.
In a statement this week about the loan, the party said, “Congress passed PPP to help ensure employers maintained payroll during this crisis and to keep people employed — and that’s exactly what FDP did.”
The party has not responded to follow up questions about the loan or to the Democrats calling for the money to be returned. According to federal data, the party said the loan would help it retain 100 jobs.
Congress created the Paycheck Protection Program in March as part of a larger stimulus package amid the economic collapse caused by the coronavirus pandemic. This week, the U.S. Treasury and Small Business Association said it has doled out more than $580 billion and it released information for the first time on employers that received more than $150,000.
The Ohio Democratic Party was the only other state party included in the Treasury data, though some other organizations may have received less than $150,000.
If employers use the money for business operations and payroll, the loan is converted into a grant and they do not have to pay it back. The Florida Democratic Party has not said if this is the case.