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The U.S. Capitol in Washington is illuminated as the debt-limit stalemate continues Saturday night, July 30, 2011. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Republicans running this year to win back one of Colorado’s U.S. Senate seats often extol their fiscal conservative bona fides and criticize government spending. A Colorado Sun analysis shows several received federal loans or unemployment payments to weather the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

One GOP Senate candidate received a Paycheck Protection Program loan just under $3 million. Another received loans totaling more than $700,000. A third received more than $15,000 in unemployment benefits.

The Sun examined the financial disclosures of incumbents and candidates for U.S. Senate, as well as the disclosures filed by candidates running to represent the state’s eight congressional districts, and compared the data to a ProPublica database of Paycheck Protection Program loans. 

A couple of candidates listed unemployment compensation in their income in the disclosures. Candidates are supposed to list income for the most recent full calendar year and the current year, but the filings don’t make clear which years are covered. (Not all the candidates have filed their disclosures yet.)

Some candidates paid back the PPP loans they received, while others had their loans forgiven. 

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe O’Dea owns Denver construction company Concrete Express, which received a PPP loan of nearly $2.9 million in April 2020 to cover payroll for an estimated 240 jobs. The loan was repaid the following month, O’Dea spokesman Zack Roday said. 

O’Dea, whose assets are worth between $17.5 million and $77.4 million, reported receiving $663,000 in salary from Concrete Express. 

Mile High Station and Ironworks Events Center, another business O’Dea owns shares in, received more than $319,000 in PPP loans over two years. Those loans were forgiven, and helped keep at least 22 employees on the payroll when large events were prohibited, Roday said. O’Dea reported $25,000 in salary from the event center business, of which he serves as president. 

Joe O’Dea. (Handout)

In his Senate campaign announcement, O’Dea noted his support for the coronavirus aid programs. “Look, government intervention in the midst of a pandemic was both legitimate and necessary,” O’Dea said. “Nobody begrudges a safety net.”

But, he added, “this attempt to turn the hardships of this past year into a hard left fiscal policy is dead wrong.”

At a Senate debate last week, Fort Collins businessman Gino Campana bemoaned what he said has been reckless spending by congressional Democrats.

“We definitely need legislation that prevents you from staying at home and getting paid,” he said. “We’re trying to fill jobs that we can’t fill. We have a restaurant, it’s one of our businesses, we’re paying $25 an hour to get a dishwasher to show up. You shouldn’t have that in our country.”

The Sun identified $710,000 in PPP loans granted to five of his companies, all of which were forgiven. He owns apartments, restaurants and other businesses. 

“Gino took PPP loans in order to keep his employees on staff full time when the government shut down the economy,” campaign spokesman Jerrod Dobkin said. “Gino is proud that he kept everyone employed through the national crisis.”

But Campana also received income of $4.3 million in 2020, according to his financial disclosure. About half that came from businesses that received PPP loans. Campana’s net worth is between $44.8 million and $141 million.

Gino Campana a Republican running for U.S. Senate in Colorado. (Handout)

O’Dea and Campana are running for a chance to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet next year. Businesses tied to Bennet, whose net worth is nearly $16 million, also received PPP loan money.

A hotel and commercial development near Union Station that Bennet is invested in received $3.3 million in PPP loans. Bennet’s investment in CP Block A Member is less than $100,000 and is managed by a financial adviser who makes decisions without consulting the senator, said Justin Lamorte, Bennet’s campaign manager.

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The original bill creating PPP was passed by Congress and signed into law during the administration of President Donald Trump. It cleared the U.S. Senate on a voice vote, with support from both Bennet and then-Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican. The Colorado Sun received a PPP loan.

Democrats then passed the American Rescue Plan Act in early 2021, injecting more money into PPP and expanding the initiative. The measure also extended unemployment benefits. No GOP member of Congress voted in favor of ARPA.

Republican U.S. Senate candidates Peter Yu, a Windsor businessman, and Gregory Moore, a Colorado Christian University professor, have yet to file financial disclosures.

Among those running for U.S. House seats in Colorado this year, only The Richards Law Office in Glenwood Springs, co-owned by Democrat Colin Wilhelm, received a $21,000 PPP loan. That loan was forgiven. 

Wilhelm is running in the 3rd Congressional District, and has loaned his campaign $294,000.

GOP Senate candidate Deborah Flora, a radio talk show host and actress, reported receiving $15,000 in unemployment compensation in 2020. Her financial disclosure said the money “was for being furloughed due to the COVID shutdown.” 

She also reported receiving income of $13,000 from Salem Radio and about $52,000 from her business, Lamplight Entertainment, in 2020 and 2021.

“Like so many Colorado families whose lives were upended when the economy was shut down during COVID, I dealt with the same challenges when I was furloughed,” Flora said in a statement from her campaign. “I then turned my full attention to the small business my husband and I own to make up the difference by generating more projects for our media company. I’m pleased to say that effort was a success, and I stopped receiving the COVID relief funds long before they expired.”

Flora has given about $103,000 to her campaign, $50,000 in loans and about $53,000 in direct payments.

At last week’s Senate debate, Flora objected to high federal spending.

“Our problem is not an under-taxing problem,” she said. “It’s an overspending problem … I will work tirelessly to stop the out-of-control spending that is fueling inflation and crippling families.”

Laurel Imer, a Republican candidate in the 7th Congressional District, reported receiving about $1,200 in unemployment payments.

With so many GOP candidates self-funding, those federal loans are likely to become fodder as they jockey to make the June 28 primary ballot.

Jesse Paul

The Colorado Sun — Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...

Sandra Fish

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @fishnette