Moneybox

Grover Norquist’s Anti-Tax Group Took Money From the Paycheck Protection Program

Grover Norquist, at a lectern with microphones that reads "ATR.org," holds up two packets of paper.
Grover Norquist loves him some big government when it’s convenient, apparently. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, a loud opponent of government spending, notoriously once 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.” But his libertarian ideological commitments don’t seem to have stopped the group he leads from accepting government aid to weather the coronavirus crisis.

On Monday, the Feds released a giant trove of data on borrowers who received money through the Paycheck Protection Program, the rescue effort for small and midsize businesses that offered forgivable loans to employers in return for avoiding layoffs. Along with restaurants, dentists’ offices, manufacturers, and such, the PPP was also available to nonprofits, like Norquist’s outfit. Lo and behold, the Americans for Tax Reform Foundation—the “educational” affiliate of the lobbying group Americans for Tax Reform— appears to have taken between $150,000 and $350,000 in aid.

Now, some journalists have spent a lot of energy attempting to shame each and every company that accepted a PPP loan that didn’t strictly need the money to survive. I am not one of those reporters; on the whole, I think it is better that the government decided to hand out money quickly and generously, rather than trying to pinch every penny, even if it means that some cash ended up wasted on, say, Yeezy. And for all we know, it is entirely possible that the Americans for Tax Reform Foundation has found itself in financial trouble these past couple months. (I emailed the organization asking whether its contributions or revenues had dropped, but I have not received a response.) However, some might argue that it’s a tad hypocritical for an organization dedicated to drowning the federal government in a tub to turn to it for help the moment the economy starts swirling down the drain.

Norquist isn’t the only right-wing operator who decided to lean on government help when it was convenient, either. The Daily Caller is listed as having received a PPP loan, as is right-wing Youtube factory PragerU. Turning Point USA, the youth organization run by Charlie Kirk, applied for the aid, but eventually decided to reject it. “Accepting any form of government assistance would be in violation of our beliefs at Turning Point USA,” Kirk bragged at the time. Apparently, not all of his compatriots on the right shared even that minimal courage of their convictions.

UPDATE, July 6, 2020, 4:35 PM:

I mean:

As my colleague Ben Mathis-Lilley jokes, even John Galt is now a taker.

UPDATE, July 6, 2020: 5:36 PM:

Americans for Tax Reform has released a statement trying to justify itself:

Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) did not apply for or receive any grant or loan from the Paycheck Protection Program, designed to keep people employed during the pandemic. ATR never opposed enactment of the program however, viewing it as compensation for a government taking during the shutdown.

Americans for Tax Reform Foundation (ATRF)—a legally and financially separate research and educational 501(c)3—was badly hurt by the government shutdown. It applied for and received a loan and has as a consequence been able to maintain its employees without laying anyone off. ATRF does not engage in lobbying.

This statement is a little bit weaselley. While Americans for Tax Reform and the Americans for Tax Reform Foundation are technically separate nonprofits, they are run by the same leadership, according to their 2018 990 forms . Grover Norquist is the president of both groups. As of those filings, they also shared the same executive director, director of state affairs, director of international programs, and director of strategic initiatives. I asked communications director John Kartch precisely how ATRF was “badly hurt” by the shutdown, but have not yet received a response. He, by the way, works for both groups too.

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