During the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama pledged to flush lobbyists out of the halls of power and bring “hope and change” to Washington. Obama also pledged not to hire lobbyists in his administration, signed an executive order to that effect, and then issued dozens of waivers to his own rule. Not only did Obama start his administration by reneging on his lobbyist pledge, insiders in his administration conducted informal lobbying on behalf of companies to whom they were connected — and manged to snag nearly $4 billion in federal funding in the green-tech stimulus, the Washington Post reports:
During the next three years, the department provided $2.4 billion in public funding to clean-energy companies in which Wagle’s former firm, Vantage Point Venture Partners, had invested, a Washington Post analysis found. Overall, the Post found that $3.9 billion in federal grants and financing flowed to 21 companies backed by firms with connections to five Obama administration staffers and advisers.
Obama’s program to invest federal funds in start-up companies — and the failure of some of those companies — is becoming a rallying cry for opponents in the presidential race. Mitt Romney has promised to focus on Obama’s “record” as a “venture capitalist.” And in ads and speeches, conservative groups and the Republican candidates are zeroing in on the administration’s decision to extend $535 million to the now-shutteredsolar firm Solyndra and billions of dollars more to clean-tech start-ups backed by the president’s political allies.
White House officials stress that staffers and advisers with venture capital ties did not make funding decisions related to these companies. But e-mails released in a congressional probe of Obama’s clean-tech program show that staff and advisers with links to venture firms informally advocated for some of those companies.
David Gold, a venture capitalist and critic of Obama’s investments in clean tech, said that even if staffers had been removed from the final decision-making, they had the kind of inside access to exert subtle influence.
“To believe those quiet conversations don’t happen in the hallways — about a project being in a certain congressman’s district or being associated with a significant presidential donor, is naive,” said Gold, who once worked at the Office of Management and Budget. “When you’re putting this kind of pressure on an organization to make decisions on very big dollars, there’s increased likelihood that political connections will influence things.”
One of the most eyebrow-raising connections in this story is that of Steven Spinner, who served as a DoE loan adviser — and whose wife worked for the law firm Wilson Sonsini, which handled a number of loan applications for the green-tech stimulus. How did that work out for Mrs. Spinner? Wilson Sonsini clients got $2.75 billion in stimulus cash, almost three-quarters of the amount tracked in this report. The law firm tells the Post that it doesn’t believe their employment of Spinner’s wife influenced DoE loan decisions — and if you have a few bucks, they can sell you a few shares of Solyndra, too.
The Post also details how 2008’s bundlers from the venture capital industry gained access to top Obama administration officials. Steve Westly bundled for Obama in 2008 and is bundling again in 2012, and his investments ended up with $600 million in federal funding. Coincidentally — or so claims the White House — Westly also serves on an advisory board for Energy Secretary Stephen Chu. David Prend was a significant investor in a green-tech firm and got a meeting with climate czar Carol Browner before the Obama administration approved a loan for the firm, a loan that got discussed in the meeting. The firm? Solyndra. Prend got federal funding for another of his investments, too — the now-defunct Ener1.
It didn’t take long for the RNC to create a helpful graphic that acts as a scorecard:
Obama didn’t stop the lobbying. He just hired the lobbyists and gave away the treasury.