ATLANTA — U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker had business interests that took government bailout money during the early stages of the pandemic, records show. Yet, on Twitter, Walker has also ridiculed businesses that took such money.
When the COVID pandemic all but shut down the economy, hotels were among the first to lose business. When the government came up with the paycheck protection program or PPP hotels got a share of it.
One company benefiting was the Sotherly Hotel Group which includes Atlanta’s historic Georgian Terrace, across from the Fox Theatre, and a dozen other upscale hotels from Philadelphia to Houston.
In April 2020, the government reported Sotherly got two PPP loans totaling more than $9.7 million while, at the same time, laying off 90% of its hotel staff, according to documents the company filed with the government.
Sotherly accepted the government's help at a time when one of its board members was urging big companies to turn it away. That board member was Herschel Walker, now running for the U.S. Senate in Georgia.
At that time, Walker was a Texas resident and a bit of a presence on politically conservative sites like Fox News. Just a few days before Sotherly got the PPP money, Walker on Twitter mocked “big companies (that) are giving back their PPP money…. Maybe they felt embarrassed (or) ashamed,” wrote Walker, before he launched his senate race.
"Because of that lifeline, a lot of businesses were saved," said Adam Harrell, who runs a marketing company in Atlanta that also took PPP money.
"There's was (a) level of hypocrisy shown when you criticize it and hey, you were part of a company. You serve on a board. You took the money. But instead of saving people's jobs, you laid people off," Harrell said.
In a statement, Walker's campaign said "Herschel’s tweet was referring to multi-billion dollar corporations that took multi-million dollar loans, which were clearly meant to keep small businesses afloat.”
Since he retired as an athlete, Walker also founded a food company. Walker’s face is on the home page of Renaissance Man Food Services, based in the central Georgia town of Dublin.
In April 2020, Walker told the Atlanta Business Chronicle he was “not relying on PPP or the government to save his chicken business,” according to the article's headline. But a few weeks later, Walker’s company likewise benefited from two payments totaling $182,800 in PPP money, most of which the government has forgiven, according to a ProPublica tracking site.
Walker’s campaign issued a statement:
“Like thousands of other small businesses, Renaissance Man Food Services took PPP funding to keep staff on payroll."
Walker declined an interview request with 11Alive – something he has done consistently since he began his Senate campaign last year.