Winsome Sears has spoken out against government relief programs while on the trail for her lieutenant governor campaign, but records show that the company she owns has received over $100,000 in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) federal relief funds since the pandemic began.
At a recent event for Republican House candidate Harold Pyon, Sears commented on Democratic leadership and government relief funds. “This is what you get,” Sears said when talking about Democrats in control of the government. “There’s not a tax they’ve not seen they don’t like. Anything to separate us from our money because they want to help us. No, I don’t want your help. We’ve got to do things differently.”
Sears, however, received a first PPP loan for $55,900 in April of 2020 and a second loan for $46,267 in March of this year for her business, Shenandoah Appliance Plumbing & Electric.
PPP loans were established by the 2020 CARES ACT with the intention of helping businesses keep their workforce employed during a time when it was difficult for most businesses to remain open with COVID-19 restrictions in place.
In a statement to Virginia Scope, Sears blamed the government for creating the situation of businesses needing help to pay employees. “The government created the PPP when it shutdown private businesses and employees lost income. Therefore, the government needs to at least attempt to make whole those it injured,” Sears said on Sunday. “PPP would not have been necessary if the government let businesses and employees make the decisions that were right for them.”
The federal government has given out more than 225,000 PPP loans totaling $18.1 billion since the program began last year. As long as certain guidelines are followed by the companies who receive the loan, they will not have to be paid back. According to ProPublica, Sears’ first PPP loan has already been forgiven in full.
“The government continues to assert its power in, again, injuring businesses and employees by taking upon itself the role of employer and savior, thus keeping citizens from creating a hope and a future for themselves and their children,“ Sears told Virginia Scope.
Richard Meagher, a professor of political science at Randolph Macon College says that while it is not good optics for Sears to receive the loans, he doesn’t think it will have a big impact on voters this November. ”On the face of it, it’s not a great look for Sears, and certainly Democrats will use this talking point to show her as hypocritical,” Meagher said. “But I don’t think it will make much of an impact on voters, or at least Republican ones. There’s a long tradition of conservative opposition to the idea of new government programs while at the same time taking advantage of existing ones.”
The Sears campaign did not respond to inquiries on Monday about the two PPP loans that federal records show she received.
Her Democratic opponent, Hala Ayala, also experienced to a financial record reveal showing a contradiction of previous public statements. Right before the Democratic primary in June, it was disclosed that Ayala accepted $100,000 from Dominion Energy after previously pledging to not accept any campaign contributions from the utility company.
Ayala said at the time that the money was necessary to get her message out to Democratic voters in the home stretch of the primary race.
“It’s about talking to voters, right? And making sure we communicate and get our message out because it overwhelmingly resonates, as you’ve seen,” Ayala said during an interview before the primary. “People change their minds all the time. People grow. That doesn’t change where my focus is,” she continued.
Ayala also said her record should show that where she stands on the issue. “I will always fight for renewable energies. I will always fight for Virginians. My record is the only thing that I have to show my accountability.”
Clean Virginia, the clean government, clean energy group that funds candidates who refuse Dominion money immediately attacked Ayala. “Del. Hala Ayala chose to break a public commitment taking $100,000 from Dominion Energy and betraying the public’s trust,” said Clean Virginia Executive Director Brennan Gilmore at the time. Clean Virginia is funded by Democratic mega-donor Michael Bills.
“The Dominion issue was much more important in the primary,” Meagher says. “I think most Democratic voters have made peace with the fact that their ticket is a fairly “establishment” group and not as progressive as it might have been. There is the broader concern about Democratic enthusiasm for establishment politicians, but the Dominion pledge was just one small part of that concern.”
Ayala and Sears face off for the number two spot in Virginia’s executive branch Nov. 2. Early voting begins Sept. 17.
Virginia Scope is an independent news publication that is funded largely by donations and subscribers. As local newsrooms are losing writers each day, we are trying to fill the void to ensure that the public is informed and that leaders are held accountable for their actions. If you can chip in a monthly subscription of whatever you can afford, even $1, it will go a long way to helping us. Subscribe here. You can also make a one-time donation below: