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Meet free market wizards and 'prosperity gospel' guys who got bailouts

People like Center of the American Experiment CEO John Hinderaker don't think anyone needs government support... until it's them.

People like Center of the American Experiment CEO John Hinderaker don't think anyone needs government support... until it's them. DAvid Joles, Star Tribune

After much cajoling from Congress and outside advocacy groups, we now get to know (kinda sorta) who got some of the largest federal loans through the emergency pandemic aid Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

The idea is that businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations would be able to hire back or keep paying furloughed or laid off workers as they would have before things got shaken up. The loans are forgivable, if employers spend at least 60 percent of their loan on payroll.

Now that the data’s been released, some spectators are raising their eyebrows about where the money’s gone.

As the Washington Post reported – and the numbers themselves demonstrate – recipients for loans were not evaluated for relative need, and the process has so far resembled a sort of “haphazard first-come, first-served” procedure that includes hard-hit restaurants, hospitals, and small businesses... but also large chain operations, publicly traded corporations, and businesses with potential conflicts of interest in Washington.

The Post also reported that nearly 90,000 companies in the program took the aid without any promise to rehire workers or create jobs.

Minnesota’s health care companies and construction firms are getting some of the biggest boosts. But then, according to the data, so are a lot of private schools and large law firms – including the well-heeled Breck School in Golden Valley, which confirmed it received just over $5 million with KSTP. Robins Kaplan LLP – one of the top 200 largest law firms in the nation – reportedly got somewhere between $5 and $10 million.

We say “reportedly” because it’s possible not all the entries in the list are accurate or up-to-date. (For example, the St. Paul-based regional Planned Parenthood chapter supposedly got somewhere between $5 and $10 million, according to the data, but a spokesperson told the Star Tribune that they’d withdrawn their application and never received funding.)

Seemingly wealthy or comfortable organizations are one thing, but a few critics are coming down especially hard on organizations that have philosophically opposed government spending, other forms of federal aid, or even the CARES Act, which was responsible for the PPP program in the first place. The latter includes Citizens Against Government Waste, which took somewhere between $150,000 and $350,000.

Closer to home, the Center of the American Experiment – a conservative think tank focused on “creative solutions that emphasize free enterprise, limited government, personal responsibility, and government accountability” reportedly got an amount within in that range, too.

The Center didn’t respond to interview requests, but for more details, you could always consult its December post entitled, “Why is government so wasteful with your money?” Here's how that one, by Center writer John Phelan, goes:

“[Milton] Friedman once said that ‘Nobody spends somebody else’s money as wisely as he spends his own. That is one reason why it is best to let people spend as much of their own money as possible.”

The Charlemagne Institute, another local conservative organization dedicated to the preservation and advancement of “Western Civilization” and the “Judeo-Christian, Greco-Roman” ideals supposedly “jettisoned” by elites in favor of “post-modern moral relativism, globalism, and even Cultural Marxism,” also reportedly accepting as much.

Churches and religious organizations also tapped PPP money, including Eagle Brook in Hugo ($2-$5 million), the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul ($1-$2 million) and Bethlehem Baptist Church of Minneapolis (also $1-$2 million).

Of particularly delicious note was Living Word Christian Center, a Brooklyn Park megachurch that received a loan somewhere between $2 million and $5 million. Senior Pastor Mac Hammond has been known for preaching the "prosperity gospel," which teaches that God rewards good faith and tithing with the alleviation of sickness and poverty and the deliverance of prosperity and – yes -- actual, material wealth.

Living Word also didn’t respond to interview requests about what role the government plays in the church's prosperity (or lack thereof). Living Word has been on shaky ground in the past, with numerous struggles to meet monthly budgets and repeated investigations by Congress and the IRS.

And although the church appears comfortable accepting the generosity of others, repaying it has historically been a little harder. In 2010, it declined to repay the $2 million in ill-gotten gains convicted Ponzi schemer Gerard Cellette donated to the church to his victims.

Other notable Minnesota samples on this expansive list include familiar restauranteurs (Granite City at $5-$10 million), food vendors (Heggie’s Pizza at $1-$2 million), liquor stores (Surdyk’s at $150,000 to $350,000) salons and beauty parlors (Lasting Impressions Hair and Nail Salon in Maple Grove ($150,000 to $350,000).