Conservative members of Congress and advocacy groups that criticize excessive government spending were among those accepting small-business pandemic relief funds from the Treasury Department this year, according to data released Monday.
Americans for Tax Reform Foundation, led by firebrand anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, took a loan between $150,000 and $350,000 from the Paycheck Protection Program. The Ayn Rand Institute and Citizens against Government Waste likewise accepted loans funded by the program.
Groups on the left also received these government funds. But applying was an especially tough decision for many longtime critics of big government, who suddenly found themselves in need of federal support.
"The CARES Act has created a moral dilemma for those Americans who value freedom," reads an explanatory essay posted by organization leaders on the website of the Ayn Rand Institute. "The pandemic has cost them their jobs, their savings, their businesses. And they blame a significant part of this loss on the government. But because they oppose government handouts, they worry that accepting CARES money would be a breach of integrity."
The Ayn Rand organization, named for the mid-20th-century author who influenced libertarian and conservative thought, said that it chose to take government funds unapologetically. "For advocates of freedom, individual rights, and limited government to turn down these relief funds means choosing to play only the victim's role in the government's bizarre game of 'loot and be looted."'
The Americans for Tax Reform Foundation is one of two related tax-overhaul groups led by Norquist, who famously said: "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."
In a statement, the foundation said it applied for the funds after being badly hurt by the government response to the pandemic. It did not oppose the program when it passed, received the loan "and has as a consequence been able to maintain its employees without laying anyone off," the statement said.
At Citizens Against Government Waste, communications director Alexandra Schatz Abrams made a similar argument to justify accepting a loan of between $150,000 and $350,000.
"In our 36-year history, we have never sought or accepted taxpayer money," she said. "But the unprecedented closing down of the U.S. economy to fight against the spread of covid-19 had a significant impact on our funding sources and threatened our ability to provide continued employment to our staff. Had we laid off our staff they would have qualified for unemployment benefits at a significant cost to the taxpayers. We determined the better path was to apply for the federal funds and provide employment continuity to our employees."
It wasn't just the spending hawks who received these funds. A loan of $432,000 was provided to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a reform group co-founded by Norm Eisen, who worked in senior positions in the Obama administration.
Full House Resorts, a casino company headed by the husband of Democratic Rep. Susie Lee of Nevada, was among several gambling organizations that received funding.
At least five other members of Congress benefited from loans given to businesses owned by themselves or their spouses. The list includes Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas; Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo.; Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Okla.; Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla.; and Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fl.
Williams, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, said in a May 5 blog post that his auto dealerships had received loans. Although Williams has been supportive of the relief spending, he has traditionally advocated for a sharply limited role of government in American society.
"I'd like to see us get to where government does three things: collect my taxes, defend my borders, help [with] infrastructure and get the heck out of everybody's life," Williams said in an interview with Epoch Times in March.