Groups critical of taxes, spending not opposed to PPP loans

An organization that lists anti-tax activist Grover Norquist as president received PPP funds

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform,is seen during a news conference in the Capitol in this archive photo. Norquist, is also president of the Americans for Tax Reform Foundation, which received a Paycheck Protection Program loan. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call archive photo)
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform,is seen during a news conference in the Capitol in this archive photo. Norquist, is also president of the Americans for Tax Reform Foundation, which received a Paycheck Protection Program loan. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call archive photo)
Posted July 6, 2020 at 7:39pm, Updated July 7, 2020 at 11:31am

Groups with widely different views on government tax and spending policies found common ground on one element of pandemic economics: Paycheck Protection Program loans to stave off job losses in their ranks.

Organizations from all ends of the political spectrum received loans in hopes of riding out the coronavirus storm, according to Small Business Administration data released Monday. The data shows a number of groups critical of what they deem as wasteful government spending applied and received loans through the program.

Taxpayers for Common Sense, Citizens Against Government Waste and Americans for Tax Reform Foundation received loans through the Paycheck Protection Program of between $150,000 and $350,000. The Center for Economic and Policy Research and The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, each received between $350,000 and $1 million. The Environmental Working Group received between $1 and $2 million.

The names of all organizations and business that received amounts larger than $150,000 represent about 14 percent of the total loans, which averaged about $107,000, according to the administration. FiscalNote, parent company of CQ Roll Call, has received a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program.

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The Americans for Tax Reform Foundation, whose president, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist is also president of Americans for Tax Reform, posted identical statements saying the groups are legally and financially separate organizations.

ATR, which urges politicians to sign a pledge to “oppose any and all tax increases,” did not apply for or receive any grant or loan from the Paycheck Protection Program, the statement said.

According to 2018 Internal Revenue Service filings accessed from nonprofit database Guidestar, both the Foundation and ATR each listed Norquist as its president and each paid Norquist $125,000 annually.

“ATR never opposed enactment of the program however, viewing it as compensation for a government taking during the shutdown,” the statement said. It also clarified that the foundation does not engage in lobbying. The group did not respond to requests for comment and specific loan figures.

Steve Ellis, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said his group received a “little less than $175,000,” which represents under 10 percent of the group’s budget.

The organization was in favor of the more-than $2 trillion coronavirus aid bill passed in March, and Ellis said the PPP — though it has had rollout issues — has been a lifeline for companies and organizations.

As a relatively small organization that relies on individuals and charitable foundations, “it’s going to be a difficult year or two ahead,” Ellis said.

The “nonpartisan budget watchdog,” which says on its website it does not take money from “corporations, unions, the government, or anyone with a financial stake in our work,” favors releasing all information on PPP loans to combat wasteful spending. Ellis said it was the first time his organization had received any government support.

“We’re not trying to hide anything and we’re not trying to misrepresent anything,” Ellis said. “We’re pushing for accountability, transparency throughout government, and this won’t change any of that.”

The Center for Economic and Policy Research received a $387,142 loan, group spokesman Dan Beeton said.

He said some of the group’s funders “will be hit by the economic impact of the pandemic,” and the group believes it is a positive that the nonprofit sector was included in the legislation.

“As we have written, the point of the Paycheck Protection Program is to get workers their paychecks, or at least a large fraction thereof,” Beeton said. “It should be a large help to CEPR to keep workers on payroll and cover our rent.”

The Environmental Working Group — which has long questioned the propriety of government subsidies to farmers — received a loan of $1,156,800, co-founder and President Ken Cook said in a statement.

“Due to the pandemic and the enormous blow it has delivered to the economy and the uncertainty EWG and millions of other small businesses and nonprofits will face in the fourth quarter of this year and beyond, we felt it was important to apply for the loan to keep our staff paid and continue the important work they do,” Cook said.

He said cancellation of a range of events cut into the group’s funding and pointed to the work his group has been doing to illuminate “significant risks the nation’s farm and food workers face, with tens of thousands getting sick and even dying from the virus.”

Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy Executive Director Amy Hanauer said the organization received $364,000, “so we could maintain compensation and rent payments at a tumultuous time for our organization.”

The group is “deeply concerned” about the economy’s health as the pandemic continues, and believes another round of assistance providing state and local fiscal relief could allow funding to flow to businesses disproportionately excluded from the previous aid package, she said.

Citizens Against Government Waste did not respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, in California, the libertarian Ayn Rand Institute, named for the influential objectivist author, received a loan between $350,000 and $1 million.

The group, which advocates for laissez-faire capitalism and whose editors of its New Ideal publication tout supporting a government “limited to protecting individual rights,” also did not respond to a request for comment.