Even when the Florida Democratic Party pledged late Wednesday night to repay at least $ 780,000 in bailouts for the federal coronavirus crisis, other questions surfaced Thursday, including which party officials signed the loan, whether the Democratic National Committee knew about it and how much the loan was primarily for.
These questions are added to the question stack, which already includes: how a political party ended with federal funds from the CARES law paycheck protection program, if political parties are not supposed to be eligible for it; how the Florida Democratic Party’s Construction Fund, a facility established last year to support a new headquarters in Tallahassee, recruited 100 people in its federal PPP loan application; and how the money from the building fund was transferred to the party’s campaign accounts.
The Florida Democratic Party has not yet responded to Florida Politics’ inquiries except with a few brief written statements. The first, Monday, defended the acquisition of the loan. The second, deployed just after midnight Thursday, blamed the bank loan processor and Small Business Administration for approving the loan and promising to return the money.
Show submissions to the Federal Electoral Commission that in April, the Florida Democratic Executive Committee, the federal agency of the Florida Democratic Party, received remittances of $ 815,641 in loan funds received under the CARES Act. That’s more than the $ 780,000 minimum The Florida Democratic Party promised to return to the PPP program late Wednesday night.
An email exchange on Wednesday afternoon that Florida Politics received on Thursday allegedly between the FDP executive director Juan Peñalosa and vice chairman Judy Mountsays Peñalosa: “We applied for funding after consulting our lawyers and informing the people at DNC,” suggesting that the national party was also made aware of this.
The party has not confirmed the authenticity of the email exchanges to Florida Politics.
The national party had advised state and local parties not to apply for a PPP.
“The DNC did not approve this and we agree with the decision to return the money,” said David Bergstein, the Director of Communications for the Battlefield State of the DNC.
In the same email exchange, Mount, who is also deputy chairman of the FDP building fund, complains: “I was completely excluded from the discussion on these articles.”
Then she asks: “Can you PLEASE tell me immediately what the situation and the facts about this situation are? What has been done and what can be done to fix it? “
According to the US Small Business Administration database of PPP recipients released earlier this week, the Florida Democratic Party Building Fund sought and received the loan to save 100 people’s jobs.
Peñalosa is the Executive Director of the Construction Fund. FDP chairman Terrie Rizzo Is chairman and Mount is vice chairman, the same positions the three occupy within the party.
FEC filings show that Between April 24 and April 29, a total of $ 815,641 was deposited into the account of the Democratic Executive Committee of Florida in five transactions ranging from $ 65,641 to $ 200,000. The paperwork cites “Cares” as the source of the money, presumably for the CARES Act that approved the PPP program.
On Wednesday, questions arose as to whether the construction fund was being used as a pass-through company to provide money to the Florida Democratic Party and whether the construction fund’s PPP application in the loan application had identified the party’s staff as its own. Both would not be permissible under federal law.
In the alleged email exchange between Peñalosa and Mount, Peñalosa admits that the money was used to support party staff.
Meanwhile, pressure from both Democrats and Republicans in Florida is building elsewhere for the party to investigate or review the incidents, or at least provide more responses. On Wednesday, several Democrats, including Senator Jason Pizzo of Miami-Dade County and rep. Nicholas Duran of Miami-Dade and the Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orlando, the question raised whether the loan should be repaid, whether it is legally permissible, and whether the construction fund is the wrong legal form to raise money for the party.
“You returned it. My question is, did they return it because they realized it was inappropriate or did they return it because they also realized they shouldn’t have it, that they weren’t entitled to have it, whether it was was legally permissible, “Pizzo said on Thursday. “And if they weren’t allowed by law I’m of course curious who initiated them, who negotiated them, and based on what legal opinion, if any, did they believe they were allowed to do so?”
Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida Joe Gruters was incredulous in a statement released Thursday.
“Who are these employees? And why does a building fund even have employees? And if these employees are political employees, the FDP now has an even bigger problem and a lot of explanation, ”wrote Gruters.
“That certainly raises a lot of questions and it becomes very clear that the FDP should never have tried to apply for the PPP funds,” continued Gruters. “I don’t think that was a mistake. They knew what they were doing from the start – but one thing they never thought was that the data would be released to shed some light on their actions. “
“The PPP authorization language is very clear – that political organizations are not eligible for PPP loans,” claimed Gruters. “Like the rest of the public, we will wait for answers.”
Peñalosa’s responses to Mount have been summarized in this part of his email:
“Yeah, it’s pretty straight forward. The government provided emergency aid to employers to keep the workers. We applied for funding after consulting our lawyers and informing the people at DNC. We completed all of the formalities with the support of our bank, lawyers and the federal funding agency. And after we filed the application, we were authorized by the agents the federal government and SBA selected to manage the payments – and they gave us the funds to pay the staff, ”he wrote.
“We spent the money to keep our people busy during the shutdown – so they can keep working,” added Peñalosa.
Did Democratic Chairman Rizzo know about the PPP money?
On May 21, more than three weeks after federal PPP money went into the Democratic Party’s account, Rizzo described the PPP program as a disaster for the president Donald Trump, in a tweet she posted on Twitter.
On Thursday, the Florida Republican National Committee spokesman said Trump Victory Emma Vaughn stated, “It is embarrassing that you were caught with your hands in a cookie jar after all your hypocritical bargains on the paycheck protection program. Simply put, the Democrats cannot be trusted to lead. “