Rise of the “venture corporatists”

posted at 12:40 pm on July 20, 2012 by Lachlan Markay

Few individuals are better at spotting a good investment than venture capitalists. Is it any surprise, then, that VC executives are becoming political creatures? Politicians are better investments than they’ve ever been, and the ROI on a political contribution can be massive.

“Venture corporatists,” as I dubbed those VC executives who “invest” in government in a Thursday column at Breitbart News, are receiving a fair amount of attention in the political realm since the Romney campaign began hitting President Obama’s “political payoffs.” The campaign is suggesting old school pay-to-play schemes between the administration and high-profile Silicon Valley supporters – most notably John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Steve Westly of the Westly Group – whose portfolios include numerous recipients of federal green energy money.

Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s fact-checker, balked at the Romney camp’s allusions to back-room deals between these venture corporatists and the administration lining their pockets. And Kessler has a point: even if those deals did take place, it would be virtually impossible to prove.

The nature of green energy cronyism under Obama is actually a bit more subtle than Romney has suggested, and was in fact set in motion before Obama ever took office. Take this 2007 Conde Nast Portfolio profile of Doerr:

None of the alternative energy sources being developed today – solar, wind, geothermal, or biomass–is close to financial sustainability, which means that the supersize returns V.C. funds depend on will require massive government subsidies, regulations, and mandates… So Doerr has launched an audacious campaign to invest millions in handpicked political candidates and influential political action committees, to push for subsidies and pro-greentech policies and require the government to purchase the kinds of fuels and technologies his startups will be marketing. Since 2000, Doerr and his wife, Ann, have contributed more than $31 million to political candidates and causes.

In essence, Doerr is helping to create the biggest new market the world has seen since the dawn of the oil industry–and asking for taxpayer dollars to do it.

(Contrary to some reports, a significant chunk of the Doerrs’ political contributions has gone to Obama. Over the two presidential election cycles, he’s received $9,600 from John Doerr and another $9,600 from his wife, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.)

Since the federal government has taken it upon itself to boost the green energy industry with taxpayer dollars (and attempts at mandates for green energy use), an investment in Washington is just as important for Doerr and other venture corporatists as an investment in the physical capital required for energy production. With billions of taxpayer dollars waiting to be doled out, electing the right politicians can be tremendously lucrative.

Westly, who has bundled between $700,000 and $1 million for Obama, understood that fact as well. “Government is not always bad and especially for something that is going to affect your business, you should be involved with it,” he told Marc Tarpenning, founder of Westly Group investment Tesla Motors. “He encouraged us to think about Washington.”

When Washington has the power to pick economic winners and losers, electing the right politicians is absolutely crucial for a nascent industry vying for a slice of that taxpayer pie. About 80 cents of each green energy dollar doled out by the administration has gone to a company tied to an Obama supporter. That doesn’t necessarily mean they worked out a shady backroom deal to reward campaign donors. It does mean that, for those involved in the green energy industry, electing the right people is extremely lucrative. For venture corporatists, politics is business.


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davidk on July 20, 2012 at 12:42 PM

Guest-post-a-looza.

MadisonConservative on July 20, 2012 at 12:43 PM

Wall Streeters that vote Dem are selling/holding government bonds. It’s not complicated.

faraway on July 20, 2012 at 12:48 PM

That doesn’t necessarily mean they worked out a shady backroom deal to reward campaign donors.

This is why we are the stupid party. Why give them the benefit of the doubt? Put them on the ropes with this. Love her or hate her, but, Palin would be screaming ‘Crony Capitalist’ from the rooftops.

faraway on July 20, 2012 at 12:50 PM

When Washington has the power to pick economic winners and losers, electing the right politicians is absolutely crucial for a nascent industry vying for a slice of that taxpayer pie. About 80 cents of each green energy dollar doled out by the administration has gone to a company tied to an Obama supporter. That doesn’t necessarily means they worked out a shady backroom deal to reward campaign donors. It does mean that, for those involved in the green energy industry, electing the right people is extremely lucrative. For venture corporatists, politics is business.

…no need to be careful of what we say here…FIFY!
…we know the Chicago way!

KOOLAID2 on July 20, 2012 at 12:51 PM

Corruption = Democrat Party SOP.

Always has, always will.

jukin3 on July 20, 2012 at 12:51 PM

The people Obama wants to help (Solyndra, Frisker Automotive, etc.) can best be described as “vulture capitalists.”

bw222 on July 20, 2012 at 12:57 PM

The people Obama wants to help (Solyndra, Frisker Automotive, etc.) can best be described as “vulture capitalists.”

bw222 on July 20, 2012 at 12:57 PM

You mean clean energy might have acquire a fraction of the lobbying power of the oil industry? Is that a bad thing?
It would be interesting to compare political donations made by big oil and their political action groups with that of alternative energy. Let’s not pretend that oil doesn’t own half of DC already.

And by the way, under $20k in donations from one of the richest VC in the world is pocket change.

bayam on July 20, 2012 at 1:07 PM

this is a distinction without a difference.
are the taxpayers being ripped off? YES
is Obamster benefitting directly (re-election)? YES
please don’t redefine the terms. this used to be called corruption.

compass and chain on July 20, 2012 at 1:09 PM

Thank you Mr. Markay for finally using the word “corporatist.”

I have always hated “crony capitalist” for its basic inaccuracy.

BKennedy on July 20, 2012 at 1:13 PM

So far the government has been very good at picking losers.

And raising the cost of goods for companies that get ‘help’ from the government. Why is it that we have to pay through our taxes for all that outgoing money and then again for higher priced goods? And those are for companies that already ‘work’. On the loser ledger we pay a lot of money for stuff that will never be productive, like all the energy company busts dotting the landscape with facilities not able to make anything.

How about stopping the price supports, payoffs, crony loans, subsidies, write-offs and all of that across the board and lowering the overall tax rate to something that is closer to what is paid after all the fingers on the scale? You know, let the market work and flat tax the rest? Because this picking business by politicians just isn’t working.

ajacksonian on July 20, 2012 at 1:15 PM

You mean clean energy might have acquire a fraction of the lobbying power of the oil industry? Is that a bad thing?
It would be interesting to compare political donations made by big oil and their political action groups with that of alternative energy. Let’s not pretend that oil doesn’t own half of DC already.

And by the way, under $20k in donations from one of the richest VC in the world is pocket change.

bayam on July 20, 2012 at 1:07 PM

So your basic rebuttal is that everyone does it and the left is just catching up? You don’t disagree with the basic idea apparently.

You’re also leaving out the fact that Obama’s administration was told by there own internal reports that most of these companies were destined to completely fail. If there was a real market for these technologies then they would receive plenty of funding from the private sector.

gwelf on July 20, 2012 at 1:15 PM

Hey, I thought that “Occupy Solyndra” photo looked familiar — because I took it! :

Occupy Solyndra sign at the October 20 2011, Occupy Oakland rally report on zombietime.

So many of my photos have essentially entered the public domain that I myself lose track of them sometimes.

Zombie on July 20, 2012 at 1:15 PM

You mean clean energy might have acquire a fraction of the lobbying power of the oil industry? Is that a bad thing?
It would be interesting to compare political donations made by big oil and their political action groups with that of alternative energy. Let’s not pretend that oil doesn’t own half of DC already.

And by the way, under $20k in donations from one of the richest VC in the world is pocket change.

bayam on July 20, 2012 at 1:07 PM

Also…

Clean energy getting a fraction of the power of the “clean energy” lobby? Green lefties are running the EPA. They also have a stranglehold on California. Green energy “concerns” aren’t catching up they’re in charge.

gwelf on July 20, 2012 at 1:20 PM

Also…

Clean energy getting a fraction of the power of the “clean energy” oil lobby? Green lefties are running the EPA. They also have a stranglehold on California. Green energy “concerns” aren’t catching up they’re in charge.

gwelf on July 20, 2012 at 1:20 PM

gwelf on July 20, 2012 at 1:25 PM

Also…

Clean energy getting a fraction of the power of the “clean energy” lobby? Green lefties are running the EPA. They also have a stranglehold on California. Green energy “concerns” aren’t catching up they’re in charge.

gwelf on July 20, 2012 at 1:20 PM

Right, and the Big Green corporations like Sierra are billion-dollar multinationals as well.

slickwillie2001 on July 20, 2012 at 1:40 PM

MadisonConservative on July 20, 2012 at 12:43 PM

Sometimes people slip through the vetting.

Thankfully you flamed out of the Green Room in short order. :X

CorporatePiggy on July 20, 2012 at 2:13 PM

Guest-post-a-looza.
MadisonConservative on July 20, 2012 at 12:43 PM

No kidding. I wish they’d put bio and link info, so I can get to know the author.

Are you posting in the GR again?

conservative pilgrim on July 20, 2012 at 2:21 PM

Very nicely written. The facts are well laid out. It’s not new to us, since it is the same argument democratics have been using against Republicans and “Big Oil” for decades. I’m not even mildly surprised by the liberal hypocrisy.

jaime on July 20, 2012 at 8:49 PM