House cmte hearing raises concerns of SBA pushing voter registration over helping small businesses

The Small Business Administration "has decided to dedicate their staff’s time and resources to register voters in a key swing seat ahead of the 2024 election," Rep. Roger Williams said.

Published: June 4, 2024 12:17pm

Updated: June 4, 2024 1:45pm

A GOP-led House panel on Tuesday continued to draw attention to the Biden Small Business Administration appearing to focus on voter registration rather than helping small businesses in a struggling economy, as the committee has been blocked by the SBA from obtaining more information on the issue.

"If a president and their agencies were permitted to freely involve themselves in elections, they could misuse this influence to stay in power," said Texas Republican Rep. Roger Williams, chairman of the House Small Business Committee, which held the hearing, titled "Weaponizing Federal Resources: Exposing the SBA’s Voter Registration Efforts."

The committee has found a significant overlap between where voter registration has increased and the locations of SBA offices and President Biden’s campaign activities. 

The agency's efforts, specifically in Michigan, during Biden's reelection campaign, is known as “Bidenbucks” – which refers to "Zuckerbucks," the roughly $400 million from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg alleged to have been funneled through left-leaning nonprofits to turn out the Democratic vote in the 2020 presidential election.  

In March 2021, Biden signed Executive Order 14019, authorizing his Bidenbucks initiative.

According to the order, “The head of each [federal] agency shall evaluate ways in which the agency can, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, promote voter registration and voter participation,” including "soliciting and facilitating approved, nonpartisan third-party organizations and State officials to provide voter registration services on agency premises.” 

Similar to “Bidenbucks,” “Zuckerbucks" came to notice when the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) poured about $350 million into local elections offices managing the 2020 election, with most of the funds donated to the nonprofit by Zuckerberg.

The nonprofit has claimed its 2020 election grants were allocated without partisan preference to make voting safer amid the pandemic

However, a House investigation found that less than 1% of the funds were spent on personal protective equipment. Most of the funds were focused on get-out-the-vote efforts and registrations in largely Democratic neighborhoods. 

Since March, the House Small Business Committee has been investigating how the SBA is working with Michigan in election activities. The committee issued subpoenas early last month to SBA Chief of Staff Arthur Plews and his special adviser after allegedly missing scheduled committee interviews.

In March, the SBA and Michigan Department of State (MDOS) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) and a memorandum of agreement (MOA) regarding voter registration efforts the federal agency is implementing with the state.

Williams in his opening remarks on Tuesday that instead of the SBA following its mission of aiding small businesses, it has instead "entangled itself in electioneering activities that not only lack a constitutional basis, but also betray the trust and purpose for which the Agency was established."

Referring to the MOU, Williams said the SBA has "decided to dedicate their staff’s time and resources to register voters in a key swing seat ahead of the 2024 election," instead of helping small businesses.

"The American people need to have confidence that Agencies are acting to carry out their duties without the fear of political interference," he also said. "Unfortunately, this is no longer the case, and as the SBA is planning events around Michigan, the American people are going to be left wondering if the event is only being held to register President Biden’s target voting blocks."

Williams also said an SBA employee was "caught on tape bragging about the Administrator’s campaign activities," and the agency "failed to make him available to speak with the Committee until we issued the first subpoenas in more than a decade."

In her opening remarks for the committee hearing on Tuesday, Elaine Parker, president of the Job Creators Network Foundation, said that small businesses are struggling with price inflation.

"The SBA is choosing to devote its efforts to registering voters in a swing state rather than helping small businesses survive this difficult economic climate,” Parker said. “That's unacceptable and a slap in the face to hardworking small business owners nationwide.”

Stewart Whitson, senior director of Federal Affairs at the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA), said the Biden executive order is concerning because of its possible partisan implementation.

"The worry is that this isn’t about registering small business owners across the state of Michigan, but rather, this is about using generous business startup and other grants to lure targeted groups of voters, those the Left believes are more likely to vote for the current president, to SBA’s website and to in-person outreach events hosted in Democratic strongholds, all to help register and mobilize these voters ahead of the 2024 election," he said.

Whitson later mentioned when questioned by Rep. Beth Van Duyne, R-Texas, about Congress's role in stopping Bidenbucks that Congress should continue investigating Bidenbucks so that state attorneys general can use the evidence to bring lawsuits against the federal government.

He added that, by gathering evidence about Bidenbucks and exposing it, Congress is "gonna discourage bad behavior by federal employees that may be carrying this out by letting them know that you’re gonna hold them accountable, should the administration change ... if they violate the Hatch Act or they violate any law, Congress is gonna hold them accountable."

Whitson also said that the implementation of Bidenbucks is unconstitutional and violates federal law that prevents federal agencies from acting beyond the scope that Congress determines for them.

Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Minn., mentioned that there are more small businesses per capita in the upper peninsula of Michigan than in southern Michigan, where the SBA has concentrated its efforts.

"But you know what? That's red country, that's Republicans up there. This is clearly for political purposes and it's unconscionable that the American people -- our taxpayer money is going towards this," Stauber said.

Rep. Mark Alford, R-Mo., asked Whitson after showing a Michigan map of where the SBA has been operating and voter registration has increased in Democratic areas, "Is this a violation of the Hatch Act, if not in the letter of the law, but in the spirit of the law?"

"It arguably is, and so that is the key question," Whitson said. "[SBA] Administrator Guzman's actions are questionable, but the facts aren't known yet. But any activity happening by people on the ground could fall to that level."

Madeline Malisa, senior fellow at FGA, said in a statement to Just the News on Tuesday, "The 'Bidenbucks' executive order is targeted voter registration and mobilization aimed at keeping the current administration in office, using the power, resources, and reach of the federal executive branch and its offices located in states across the country.

"Not only is this an all-of-government initiative to retain power, but it's leveraging aligned third-party NGOs as an extension of the federal government's authority and efforts," she added. "It's unlawful, and it might be enough to swing the election."

Whitson told Just the News in a statement, "Every bit of funding and energy the SBA uses for electioneering is a precious resource taken away from small businesses who desperately need the assistance during a time of rampant inflation and economic downturn. It's partisan mission creep, and it highlights the Biden administration's willful desire to focus on political power instead of helping those they are charged with serving."

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