McGovern miffed limits set on his remarks by SBA


For the Gazette
Published: 6/3/2018 9:40:49 PM

GREENFIELD — An attempt to set parameters on remarks byU.S. Rep. Jim McGovern at a Rural Small Business Lending Roundtable, where he was a designated “special guest” of the U.S. Small Business Administration, led to his skipping the speaking engagement Friday.

“I’ve never run into anything like this before, from any agency. This has a chilling effect,” said the Democratic congressman, as he left the program at Greenfield Community College after sitting through the opening presentation, for which he was still listed as presenting “special guest remarks” for 15 minutes.

A May 23 letter to McGovern by Casey A. Lyons, SBA Massachusetts District Office counsel, advised, “Under SBA procedures, any speaker who holds political office is required to be given a written notice of certain limitations on the content of his address … This letter serves to advise you that your remarks cannot be designed to facilitate, or be directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for public office or a political group.”

The letter, which was presented by staff to McGovern when he returned to the district from Washington a couple of days ago, cited a “standard operating procedure” of SBA: “If a Federal, state or local official or his/her official staff, or a candidate for public office or a member of his/her official staff or campaign staff, wishes to participate in a SBA-sponsored activity as a speaker or as part of the official program, the RPO may advise the official or candidate …. that (his) remarks shall not be designed to facilitate or be directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for public office or a political group.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever received a letter like this from any federal agency before appearing at any event they were sponsoring,” McGovern said after the event, which he left quietly with aides, when asked why he hadn’t spoken. “This is not a political rally, and I certainly had no intention (of) making it into one. But the idea that somebody should dictate the parameters of what was acceptable for me to say is beyond the pale.”

Lyons told The Recorder, “We don’t review anyone’s speeches. We just send that letter as a standard for any speaker at a political event, every time, as long as I’ve been here,” to municipal and state as well as federal officials.

Lyons noted that the rule was revised in August 2016, but that it had been in place before then.

An aide to U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, said he had never heard of Neal receiving that kind of advisory from SBA either.

McGovern, emphasizing that he gets along well with regional and state SBA and USDA officials, said, “This really bothers me, getting a letter like that” and he was leaving “as a matter of principle” and planned to attend events later in the day at Greenfield Center School and GCC.

“Providing assistance to our rural economy is important to me, and I want to make sure local people have access to all the federal resources that are out there. … I could have said that Donald Trump, when he submitted his budget, wanted to cut the SBA by 25 percent. That’s just a fact. Nobody should be able to tell me what I can or can’t say. I’ve never been at any event with any federal agency where I’ve tried to make it into a political rally. That’s not appropriate. The president does that on a regular basis, turning everything into a political event. The idea that executive branch agencies, which the president leads, is basically sending me a letter giving me parameters of what’s acceptable and not goes beyond the line.”

McGovern, who has been in Congress since 1997, said he has participated in many SBA events and that neither he nor any staff member can ever recall receiving notification by that agency, or any other, trying to limit his remarks.

“Given what’s going on with this White House, it smacks of just trying to intimidate us into saying nothing,” he said.

The lending roundtable involved the SBA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Agency, along with the Franklin County Community Development Corp., the state Small Business Development Center, Service Corps of Retired Executives and local banks gathered to tell small businesses about lending opportunities.

Speaking to about 50 people at the event, SBA New England Director Wendell Davis praised McGovern for “tireless work on the House Committee on Agriculture,” and as ranking member of its Committee on Nutrition. He also said McGovern is “a leading advocate on the importance of nutrition and eradication of hunger. Events like this really hit his sweet spot, because not only is he at the front of the rural America initiative … but he grew up in a small business family, so he knows what small businesses are all about.”

Caroline Pam of Kitchen Garden Farm was the featured speaker for the event, describing how her business had started in 2006 with a single rented acre in Sunderland and grew, with the help of loan programs, the state Agricultural Preservation Restriction program and the CDC, to the point where the farm now tends 50 acres, employs more than 15 workers and is preparing to build its own commercial kitchen for its line of hot sauces.

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