Companies owned by 5 U.S. Senate candidates in Ohio received COVID relief funds

Federal Paycheck Protection Program grants were accepted by companies owned by five candidates for U.S. Senate in Ohio, including three Republicans who are sharply critical of government spending.

Two of the three Republicans also pumped millions of dollars of their own money into their Senate campaigns, a Dayton Daily News investigation found.

The federal PPP money, which was loaned and then forgiven as part of the 2020 COVID relief effort, went to businesses owned by Republicans Mike Gibbons of Fairview Park; state Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls; Mark Pukita of Dublin; and Neil Patel of Westerville; and Democrat Traci “TJ” Johnson of Hilliard, according to the PPP tracker compiled by ProPublica, an independent nonprofit news organization.

The money was awarded to the four companies in the spring of 2020 as part of the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) approved by Congress and signed by former President Trump in March 2020.

The federal government forgave all five loans loans plus interest in the following amounts:

  • $1,532,686 to Gibbons’ investment banking firm Brown Gibbons Lang & Co. LLC of Cleveland for a payroll of 72.
  • $1,355,136 to Mark Pukita’s Fast Switch Ltd., information technology and health care services recruiting company in Dublin, for a payroll of 65.
  • $620,852 to Dolan’s law firm Thrasher Dinsmore & Dolan LPA of Chardon for a payroll of 33.
  • $54,105 to Johnson’s Tra’Bian Enterprises, an information technology firm located in Dublin for a payroll of eight.
  • $10,055 to Patel’s Ganpati Inc., which operates an Econolodge in Zanesville, for a payroll of 10.

All four Republicans personally contributed to their senate campaigns in these amounts: Gibbons, $11.4 million; Dolan, nearly $10.5 million; Pukita, $272,964; and Patel, $28,645 as of Dec. 31, according to a summary compiled by OpenSecrets, a nonprofit that tracks campaign contributions and spending. No campaign finance data is on file for Johnson.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Those individual contributions to their own campaigns were not made by their companies, according to their campaign filings.

Gibbons, Dolan and Patel’s spokeswoman defended the companies’ acceptance of the money.

“Our company accepted Donald Trump’s PPP loan because our company was effectively shut down at that point of the pandemic, and we did not know if we would be able to survive or what decisions the government would make next,” Gibbons said. “President Trump’s Paycheck Protection Program as laid out by law, was used to pay the salaries of employees during the 2020 lockdown.”

Dolan said the money was needed “to retain personnel during pandemic-related disruption of regular operations” at the firm. He said the money paid “secretaries and staff. The firm’s partners, including myself, did not receive PPP money as compensation.”

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Patel’s hotel “lost 90-95 percent of the business from the pandemic,” campaign spokeswoman Carol Cain said, but he did not layoff any employees.

Pukita and Johnson did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Credit: Joshua A. Bickel/Ohio Debate Com

Credit: Joshua A. Bickel/Ohio Debate Com

“President Trump’s PPP program was an important lifeline for many small businesses, and it’s a shame it was abused by Republicans who claim to be ‘fiscal conservatives,’” said former Ohio Republican Party chair Jane Timken of Canton, who also is running for senate. “Mike Gibbons and Matt Dolan are each pouring $10 million of their own money into buying Ohio’s U.S. Senate seat, but they needed taxpayer dollars to bailout their businesses? This reeks of hypocrisy and misplaced priorities.”

J.D. Vance, a Cincinnati businessman and author also running in the GOP primary, said if Gibbons can afford to self-fund his campaign he didn’t need the federal money for his company and “shamefully abused the trust of taxpayers to line his pockets, at the expense of those who truly needed that money to survive,” according to a news release issued by Vance’s campaign.

“How many struggling small businesses in Ohio went bankrupt or were forced to fire their workers just because Mike Gibbons cut ahead of them in line for PPP funds that he didn’t even need?” Vance said.

The other Republican candidate in the race is Josh Mandel of Beachwood, a former Ohio treasurer, who also did not comment.

The other Democrats in the race are Morgan Harper, a Columbus attorney, and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Howland Twp. in Trumbull County.

“Tim fought to bring billions of dollars in Paycheck Protection Program loans to Ohio, and just last week voted to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund to continue supporting Ohio’s family businesses — unlike his hypocritical millionaire opponents who have slammed the programs that helped Ohio businesses keep their doors open while eagerly accepting those same funds,” said Izzi Levy, press secretary for the Ryan campaign.

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Vance owns Narya, a Cincinnati venture capital firm that his campaign said did not receive PPP money. Campaigns for Timken, Harper and Ryan said they do not own businesses.

The PPP program, which ended May 31, awarded 11.5 million loans, including 352,307 in Ohio, according to the ProPublica data updated March 28. Loans totaled $793 billion, of which $629 billion was forgiven.

Loans were eligible to be forgiven if 60 percent of the money was spent on payroll and the rest on other eligible expenses, and employee and compensation levels were maintained, according the the U.S. Small Business Administration website. The program ran out of money in the first round and was criticized because many very large corporations got money that critics said should have gone to smaller companies. Congress replenished funding and the program ended May 31.

Gibbons, Pukita and Dolan are all campaigning on opposition to what they consider to be overspending by the government.

In a March debate Pukita denounced what he called “profligate” government spending and his website says he wants to “transform a government culture of entitlement, endless expansion, waste, fraud, abuse and dependency.”

At a forum held last year Gibbons said he would have voted against the CARES Act, according to Cleveland.com. In March he told the Dayton Daily News that the U.S. government is broke and taxes are too high.

“I don’t believe in dependency on the government other than if you are completely incapable of supporting yourself,” Gibbons said.

Dolan’s website says, “Ohio’s hardworking families should not be forced to bear the brunt of Washington’s reckless and out-of-control spending binge. For too long lawmakers have ignored our ballooning national debt and have failed to take action.”

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

But in an emailed comment last week, Dolan said he supported the CARES Act.

“Seeing that Ohio and the nation faced unprecedented and unforeseen pandemic challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, I would have voted for the CARES Act,” Dolan said. “In the midst of an unforeseen national emergency, the federal government had a responsibility to assist hard-working families, keeping Ohioans employed and delivering much-needed relief to small businesses. It’s clear this helped to avoid layoffs and provided necessary resources to aid medical professionals in saving lives.”

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