Normally, the reward for large-scale fundraising in winning presidential campaigns is an ambassadorship or a spot on an advisory panel, but Barack Obama came to Washington on a promise to change “business as usual.” And he has, according to ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity. Not only did rainmaker Steve Westly get a spot on an advisory committee on energy, his business got hundreds of millions in loans from the Obama administration’s green-energy push, announced by none other than Obama himself:
When the White House announced the federal government would loan $465 million to Tesla, a California start-up company with plans to develop an all-electric sedan, President Obama called it an “historic opportunity to ensure that the next generation of fuel-efficient cars and trucks are made in America.”
The loan also represented a lucrative opportunity for Steve Westly, a major investor in the car company who had raised more than $500,000 for the president’s campaign.
In 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy lent more than half a billion dollars to companies backed by Westly’s California venture capital firm. In 2010, the White House tapped Westly for a seat on a special energy advisory panel that gives him regular access to Energy Secretary Steven Chu. Westly boasts on his website that his firm is “uniquely positioned” to take advantage of the Obama administration’s interest in green energy.
Nor was Westly an isolated case. John Doerr and George Kaiser actually got more than Westly in green loans, and between the three received more than $1.5 billion. Doerr also got an advisory panel position as well:
The department lent $528 million to Fisker Automotive, whose electric car is being financed by a venture capital firm run by billionaire Obama supporter John Doerr — a firm that touts former Vice President Al Gore as a board member. And, a $535 million federal loan guarantee was used to help a California solar cell company whose major investors include George Kaiser, an Oklahoma billionaire who raised between $50,000 and $100,000 for Obama during the 2008 election.
CPI revisits the curious case of Solyndra as well, another half-billion-dollar bust in which the new Congress has taken an interest:
Doerr and Kleiner Perkins executives have contributed more than $1 million to federal political causes and campaigns over the last two decades, primarily supporting Democrats, and Doerr serves on Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. Doerr did not respond to multiple interview requests about his dinner with Obama.
Another beneficiary of Energy Department aid is Solyndra Inc., a California solar power firm whose financial backers include Oklahoma oil billionaire George Kaiser, a bundler who raised at least $50,000 for the president’s campaign in 2008. Solyndra, a recipient of a $535 million 2009 loan guarantee to help create jobs, laid off some 180 temporary and fulltime workers the following year, prompting questions in Congress over whether its new manufacturing plant will spur the 1,000 fulltime U.S. jobs the company promised.
Nor are these the only ways in which Westly and Doerr were able to cash in their fundraising for a perch at the government trough:
Obama’s focus on environmentally promising technologies while gaining support from clean tech titans comes at a time when the Energy Department’s handling of government largesse is gaining scrutiny. The Government Accountability Office, the investigatory arm of Congress, raised concerns in a report last year about favoritism in the awarding of some loan guarantees. The Energy Department’s inspector general told Congress this month that some stimulus contracts may have been steered to “friends and family.”
A GAO report to be released this week is expected to focus on a specific automotive loan program that benefited five companies, including two supported by the Westly and Doerr venture firms.
The GAO warned the Democratic Congress of potential abuse and cronyism at the White House? What exactly did Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid do to address it? Oh, right — they fought to give even more blank checks to the White House, blank checks that appear to have been used to pay off well-connected donors.
Looks like business as usual squared at 1600 Hopenchange Avenue. It also looks like a great argument for an end to all subsidy programs at the federal level.