Gas Station Company Funds Six Trump Billboards

A small company that owns a small Shell gas station and travel center in Needles, California bought six Trump Billboards, possibly using PPP loans. 

What We Know:

  • There are six Donald Trump billboards near the border of California and Arizona that were bought by a small company called Jones 1 Inc., which owns a small gas station and travel center. It is believed that PPP loans were used to fund those billboards.
  • According to Lamar Advertising, the company that leased the spaces for the billboards, six political billboards could cost anywhere from around $10,000 to $30,000 depending on the location. Despite this, they declined to say specifically the pricing for the six billboards. The owner of Jones 1 Inc., Joseph Jones, said that he is planning on keeping the billboards through the election to support the president, which could cost around $30,000 and $120,000. Jones said he didn’t spend anything near $120,000.
  • Jones 1 Inc. was given a loan between $150,000 and $350,000 in April to help with payroll through the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). PPP loans were given to help businesses who were affected by the pandemic to help with the mortgage, payroll costs, rent, utilities, etc. Any non-essential spending is prohibited and violates the purpose of the program. And buying political billboards is seen as non-essential even though Jones claims PPP loans were not used for the billboards. 
  • But, even if Jones did not use the PPP loans for the billboards, Liz Hempowicz, director of public policy at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) suggests that if a company can spend its money on non-essential things during these times of hardships, then that company does not qualify for the loan. 

“If you have enough capital to spend it on billboards, maybe you shouldn’t have been one of the companies to receive this loan,” Hempowicz said. “The responsibility really rested with the SBA (Small Business Administration) and the administration to make sure they were spending these taxpayer dollars in a way that Congress intended.”

  • It is common for businesses to get involved with politics by donating money to Super PACs but it has to be reported to the Federal Election Commission if the spending was more than $1,000. The FEC’s records show that Jones did not report the spending. 
  • The idea for the billboards was created by members of the Lake Havasu Republicans Facebook group and the creator of the Facebook group, Gianna Kraft, said that Jones stepped up to make it happen. Kraft doesn’t know whether or not Jones used PPP loans for the billboards. 
  • The SBA required businesses to certify that the loan was needed for them to continue operating and if businesses falsely certified and didn’t return the funds, criminal penalties may be faced.

It’s unclear whether Jones returned the money or applied for the loan to be forgiven. It’s also unclear how the company is currently doing financially.