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When he announced he was running for state auditor Thursday, Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick vowed to fight back against liberal politicians who have "used the pandemic as cover to justify spending trillions of dollars of borrowed money to fund their socialist agenda."

What he failed to note was that the company he founded has been the recipient of more than $1.3 million of that federal pandemic relief funding.

MariCorp U.S, a boat dock repair firm on Table Rock Lake in Shell Knob that Fitzpatrick founded as a teenager, received two loans through the federal government's Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) designed to help small businesses meet payroll during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first loan, for $694,562 and received in April 2020, has been forgiven.

The status of the second loan, for $646,071 and received just three months ago, has not been publicly disclosed.

According to the database of PPP loans maintained by ProPublica, the first loan was to maintain 54 jobs. The second was to maintain 60 jobs. Loans can be forgiven if companies meet criteria that includes not laying off employees during a defined period.

Fitzpatrick's campaign defended the federal funding, saying the loans were needed because "the government broke the economy, and MariCorp U.S., like millions of other businesses, was faced with laying off employees with families."

The campaign drew a distinction between pandemic relief signed into law by former President Donald Trump and subsequent relief signed into law by President Joe Biden.

"There is a clear difference between the socialist proposals coming from liberal politicians and the Trump administration's paycheck protection program, which received near unanimous support in Congress in order to keep people employed," said Steele Shippy, Fitzpatrick's campaign adviser.

PPP was established in April 2020 under the CARES Act. The goal was to provide aid to businesses in order to prevent mass layoffs as the economy faltered under the strain of the pandemic.

A year later, and a month before Fitzpatrick's company got its second loan, Biden signed the American Rescue Plan, which extended the PPP program.

While some economists have questioned PPP's success, arguing it primarily aided businesses that were not at risk of going under, the program gets credited with preventing millions of job losses and deeper economic catastrophe.

From nearly the beginning of the program, politicians — particularly members of Congress — have faced scrutiny for receiving PPP loans.

Last year, Republican U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, of Harrisonville — whose family owns multiple farms and equipment suppliers — also drew scrutiny for receiving PPP loans. The Kansas City Star reported earlier this month that Gov. Mike Parson received a $6,288 PPP loan for his cattle farm in Bolivar.

Fitzpatrick, 33, was appointed state treasurer and sworn into office in January 2019. The office was vacated by Eric Schmitt, who Parson appointed to serve as attorney general after the resignation of Josh Hawley to take a seat in the U.S. Senate.

He won a full term in November 2020, handily defeating Democrat Vicki Englund by 31 percentage points.

Fitzpatrick announced he was running for state auditor Thursday, a day after donating $250,000 to his own campaign committee.

Shippy said MariCorp U.S. supports nearly 70 families and generates "millions of dollars in payroll and tax revenue each year."

The company qualified for a PPP loan, Shippy said, and accepted the money in order to "protect the families relying on it for a paycheck.

"The company used every dollar of the funding received under the program to pay employees," he said, "and thankfully has not laid off a single employee during the pandemic, despite the skyrocketing costs of labor and materials."

The Missouri Independent is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization covering state government and its impact on Missourians.

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