2020 Election

Anti-Collins Small Business Owners Are Longtime Dem Activists

Dark money-funded ad stars couple that benefitted from PPP program

Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) / Getty Images

Two Maine restaurateurs accused Republican senator Susan Collins in an attack ad of crafting corporate loopholes in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) while leaving small businesses like theirs out to dry. The ad, however, failed to note that the two small business owners are veteran Democratic activists who received PPP loans within one month of the program's start.

While the ad portrayed Andrew and Briana Volk as hapless restaurant owners betrayed by Collins, the Volks are actually cofounders of a political group that encouraged restaurant owners across the country to donate part of their sales to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. In the 30-second super PAC ad, which started airing on Tuesday, the couple said they felt "totally abandoned" by the senator and heavily implied that their businesses never received PPP loans because Collins allowed big businesses to drain the fund before they could access it.

"We really needed the PPP loan to just keep our business. But Susan Collins wrote a loophole to let corporate chains take the small business loans," the restaurant owners said. "Big corporate chains scarfed up the money before most small businesses like ours had a chance."

The Volks' business received thousands in PPP loans as early as April, a fact Andrew Volk acknowledged in numerous media interviews critical of the program. The pair did not disclose in the ad, nor in press reports, that they are longtime partisan activists. The Volks are cofounders of Collins Against Collins, a group established in 2018 to raise money for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and other national Democrats. The group, which is not registered with the Federal Elections Committee, hopes to "raise money and awareness for down-ticket Democratic races" by urging restaurants to donate a portion of their sales from Collins cocktails to Democrats.

The ad is the latest attempt by the Democratic party to attack Collins on all fronts to get a leg up in a competitive Senate race. Collins has received bipartisan acclaim for her central role in the creation of the PPP—a program that had a bumpy rollout but has since saved millions of small businesses throughout the pandemic-induced depression by offering more than $500 billion in forgivable loans. Democrats have tried to discount Collins's role in the popular program for months, falsely accusing her of using the program to divert money to her big corporate donors.

The couple also erroneously claimed that Collins "wrote loopholes" for big corporate chains, citing a report that Collins allowed corporate hotel chains to receive PPP loans. Both Democrats and Republicans supported the so-called loophole for hotel industries, which gave money to the franchisees of big hotel brand names. The franchisee hotels usually operate with a large degree of autonomy from their franchisers, making them function like small businesses rather than appendages of a larger corporation, according to a Washington Post fact check that declared the attack against Collins "highly misleading."

The Volks did not respond to a request for comment.

The ad was released by Change Now PAC, which has received lucrative donations dating back to 2018 from media heir James Murdoch, billionaire Mike Bloomberg, and the dark money group Sixteen Thirty Fund, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The group has spent $3.2 million in attack ads in the 2020 cycle, targeting Arizona senator Martha McSally (R.) and President Donald Trump along with Collins.