Right-Wing Groups Opposed to Government Aid Cashed In While Collecting PPP Loans

Prager University Foundation, the Ayn Rand Institute, and Americans for Tax Reform saw gains while on government aid in 2020, according to new research.

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 01: A bipartisan group of Democrat and Republican members of Congress as they announce a proposal for a Covid-19 relief bill on Capitol Hill on December 01, 2020 in Washington, DC. The roughly $908 billion proposal includes $288 billion in small business aid such as Paycheck Protection Program loans, $160 billion in state and local government relief and $180 billion to fund a $300 per week supplemental unemployment benefit through March, according to a draft framework. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
A bipartisan group of Democrat and Republican members as they announce a proposal for a Covid-19 relief bill on Capitol Hill on Dec. 1, 2020, in Washington, D.C. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

“Government spending is a HUGE problem,” the conservative video site PragerU tweeted in September 2019. “We must reinvest in Americans by giving them a hand up, not handouts,” the group wrote in another tweet that November with a video of then-Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson discussing rehabilitation for incarcerated people titled, “Americans Need A Hand Up, Not Handouts.”

But last year, right-wing groups that have long opposed the concept of increased government spending on “handouts” were the recipients of more than $1.7 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans while seeing significant increases in contributions or net assets, according to new research from the government watchdog group Accountable.US. Last April, the Small Business Administration launched the $349 billion emergency loan program to help small businesses struggling at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

PPP loans to Prager University Foundation, the Ayn Rand Institute, and Americans for Tax Reform Foundation were all made public last summer. But recently released 990 forms for 2020 show that each groups saw significant increases in contributions or net revenue at the same time they received hundreds of thousands of dollars in government subsidies.

“Right-wing groups that wave their finger at federal relief spending for local governments and working families never seem to mind when it benefits them,” Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.US, said in a statement. “The same people who’ve made careers out of bashing government programs were among the first in line for taxpayer-funded assistance during the COVID-19 crisis — aid intended for struggling mom-and-pop businesses. Their hypocrisy is trumped only by their shamelessness. If these groups were serious about their own purported principles, they’d return that money to the taxpayers.”

At the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, not long before Prager University Foundation received a PPP loan, Dennis Prager was already at work downplaying the severity of the virus. Videos posted throughout the pandemic by the conservative video site PragerU, which Prager co-founded in 2011, alleged that there was an “orchestrated attack” against the experimental use of hydroxychloroquine, and that the death toll from Covid-19 has been inflated. The group’s YouTube page has 2.9 million subscribers, and it said its videos were viewed more than 1 billion times in 2019.

Prager University Foundation, which hosts PragerU, received more than $704,000 in PPP loans the same year that it saw a 55 percent, $12.3 million increase in contributions from 2019, and a $15 million increase in net worth over the same period. The nonprofit group, founded in 2009, has long criticized the concept of government spending and “handouts.” In October, PragerU published a video titled “The Bankrupting of America,” which criticized former President Donald Trump’s approval of “a massive increase in government spending” during the pandemic, as well as additional spending by President Joe Biden.

The Ayn Rand Institute received more than $713,000 in PPP loans last spring. The group’s mission is “to create a culture whose guiding principles are reason, rational self-interest, individualism and laissez-faire capitalism—a culture in which individuals are free to pursue their own happiness.”

Last May, ARI posted a blog explaining why it was OK to accept government aid despite Rand’s well-known position against such programs. “The CARES Act has created a moral dilemma for those Americans who value freedom,” they wrote. “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. At the Ayn Rand Institute, we are dedicated to philosophic principle. And because we are, we will take any relief money offered us. We will take it unapologetically, because the principle here is: justice.”

ARI reported $7.6 million in contributions last year, a 19 percent increase from 2019. The group reported $1.2 million in gains last year, up from losses of $790,000 in 2019.

Americans for Tax Reform Foundation, the nonprofit wing of Americans for Tax Reform, received more than $290,000 in PPP relief last spring. The group said the loan helped the company avoid layoffs, writing that it is “a legally and financially separate research and educational 501(c)3” that “was badly hurt by the government shutdown.” ATRF’s net assets increased last year by 36 percent or $4.6 million, cutting its 2019 deficit of $17.5 million to $12.9 million. Americans for Tax Reform and its foundation were founded in 1985 by Republican Grover Norquist at former President Ronald Reagan’s request, to oppose all tax increases.

Despite its stated aims, billions of dollars in Paycheck Protection Program loans went to wealthy business owners and not the mom and pop shops they were designed to support. Several such small businesses were denied outright or received less money than they asked for. The PPP program was also accused of shutting out Black small business owners.

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