A group of Democratic House members is demanding answers from the Small Business Administration following a The Daily Beast report that top anti-vaccine groups received more than $1 million in free cash through an initiative intended to help struggling entrepreneurs survive the pandemic.
The Daily Beast received a missive that Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) sent SBA Administrator Isabel Guzman on Monday, questioning whether the half-dozen disinformation superspreaders—including supplement hawker Joseph Mercola and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.—who had Paycheck Protection Program loans absolved this year had fulfilled all the requirements of the program. These requirements, Sanchez noted, include refraining from political activity. The anti-inoculation activists maintained to The Daily Beast at the time of the original story that they were in complete compliance.
“Several of these individuals and their organizations received loans in the first round of PPP availability while many small, family-owned businesses were unable to access the program,” wrote Sanchez. “Some groups—who continue to profit from COVID-19 and vaccine disinformation—have received taxpayer dollars to assist them in spreading misinformation that’s prolonging the pandemic, taking lives, and preventing small businesses from returning to normal.”
Co-signatories to the letter include Rep. Suzan Delbene (D-WA), chairwoman of the moderate New Democrat caucus; Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), chairman emeritus of the House Progressive Caucus; Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN); Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA); and Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA). Sanchez noted that all of the lawmakers supported the popular yet oft-criticized program, first instituted under former President Donald Trump.
The Center for Countering Digital Hate, which has reported on the various ways anti-vaxxers are reaping funds from pandemic disinformation, lauded both The Daily Beast’s uncovering of the mass loan forgiveness and Sanchez’s response.
“Anti-vaccine propaganda is a business, and many of these organizations are making money hand over fist,” said Imran Ahmed, the group’s founder. “The Daily Beast’s reporting has shed light on how taxpayer dollars have been used to spread disinformation that’s prolonging the pandemic, taking lives, and preventing small businesses from returning to normal operations.”
The SBA did not respond to a request for comment.