One of the country's leading gun-control groups received up to $350,000 from taxpayers to deal with the fallout from coronavirus, but that has not affected its political arm's plans to spend millions on the 2020 election.
Giffords PAC, one of the largest gun-control political action committees in the country, told Colorado Politics that it would spend $1.25 million on television ads to support Democrat John Hickenlooper's 2020 Colorado Senate campaign. The announcement came just two months after the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence took a Paycheck Protection Program loan worth between $150,000 and $350,000 in order to meet payroll for 16 employees, according to the Small Business Administration.
Congress established PPP loans in March to provide relief to small businesses affected by coronavirus shutdowns, but the taxpayer-backed loans may have been used to support the salaries of workers spearheading Giffords PAC's multimillion-dollar campaign operations. A Washington Free Beacon review of financial disclosures found money has moved between the PAC, Law Center, and a Washington, D.C.-based social welfare arm called Giffords. The PAC has paid Giffords more than $845,000 since March 2019 for everything from staffing costs to rentals. Giffords and the Law Center share staff, according to federal disclosures.
Neither the Giffords PAC nor the Law Center responded to a request for comment.
While advocacy groups routinely commingle money between nonprofit and political operations, the use of taxpayer money could lead to legal trouble, according to some legal experts. Hans A. von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation's Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, warned that the arrangement could prove legally problematic if any of the PPP funds were used to support Hickenlooper.
"To the extent this organization commingles or uses any federal funds in support of a member of Congress because of his anti-gun position, they may be in violation of [federal law]," Spakovsky said. "If they use federal funds for partisan political purposes they could potentially be charged with ‘defrauding' the United States."
Second Amendment activist Alan Gottlieb said the two nonprofits he works with have struggled from lagging donations during the pandemic, but the notion of taking taxpayer dollars did not cross his mind. He called on the Giffords Law Center to return its PPP loans and said politicians should repudiate endorsements from the group.
"This is yet another fraud committed by the Giffords PAC against the American people," Gottlieb told the Free Beacon. "They should use that money to repay the loans they took for their allied sister organization that they claim is not political. Morally this is disgusting and Hickenlooper should denounce them for it."
The Hickenlooper campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Brady PAC, another leading gun-control group whose affiliate took up to $1 million from the small business relief program, also told the Colorado publication it would "spend big" in support of Hickenlooper. The PAC did not respond to questions about how much it planned to spend in the race. A spokesman for the Brady Center, which received the PPP loan, told the Free Beacon on Friday the loan was needed to make up for shortfalls in fundraising associated with events canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.