Obama Fundraisers Tied to Green Firms That Got Federal Cash
From ABC News/iWatch
By Matthew Mosk and Ronnie Greene
September 29, 2011
Several of Barack Obama’s top campaign supporters went from soliciting political contributions to working from within the Energy Department as it showered billions in taxpayer-backed stimulus money on alternative energy firms, ABC News and iWatch News have learned.
e of them was Steven J. Spinner, a high-tech consultant and energy investor who raised at least $500,000 for the candidate. He became one of Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s key loan program advisors while his wife’s law firm represented a number of companies that had applied for loans.
Recovery Act records show Allison Spinner’s law firm, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, received $2.4 million in federal funds for legal fees related to the $535 million Energy Department loan guarantee to Solyndra, a solar company whose financial meltdown has prompted multiple investigations. …
As House Republicans step up their probe of the Obama administration’s green-energy loan program in the wake of Solyndra’s bankruptcy, a key focus — and open question — is whether the president’s political supporters had any hand in influencing which companies received the taxpayer support. …
Spinner declined requests to be interviewed. …
Damien LaVera, an Energy Department spokesman, described Spinner as someone who had “no role” in evaluating loan applications or selecting recipients.
Spinner described his job differently. He wrote in an online bio for the Center for American Progress, the left-leaning think tank he joined after leaving the administration, that he “helped oversee the more than $100 billion of loan guarantee and direct lending authority” for the department’s green-energy loan program. And in a speech at a “Green Tech” conference in June 2010, Spinner described how he “worked very, very closely with all the various organizations, the various offices, in trying to streamline operations and … move the funding opportunity announcements out, get the solicitations out on the street.”
“What the Secretary really cared about was he wanted us to get the money out fast, he wanted us to pick and select fantastic projects,” Spinner said.
Spinner was not the only Obama political supporter to play a role at the Energy Department. California venture capitalist Steve Westly, who raised more than $500,000 for Obama, had Secretary Chu’s ear on green energy issues as a member of a high-level volunteer advisory panel. Mackey Dykes, who was a finance manager for the Obama campaign, was hired to be the liaison between the Energy Department and White House. Each declined interview requests.
Obama’s political supporters were also investors in companies that had applied for loans. Westly has held stakes in at least five companies that have won DOE support. Oklahoma billionaire George Kaiser, another Obama bundler, was the biggest private backer of Solyndra. Westly, Spinner and the CEO of Allison Spinner’s law firm, John V. Roos, (now Obama’s ambassador to Japan), each raised more than $500,000 for Obama’s 2008 campaign.
Watchdog: Unusual for Donor To Get Federal Loan Job
While it is common for presidents to reward top donors with ambassadorships or other political posts, the Sunlight Foundation’s Bill Allison said it is unusual to see a major donor such as Spinner given a position inside a relatively obscure government loan program.
“For an administration that won’t hire lobbyists to be hiring fundraisers for that role, that seems to be a bit of a contradiction,” Allison said. “Obviously you want to keep all people who are involved in political influence out of positions of responsibility.” As a presidential candidate, Obama had said lobbyists “won’t find a job in my White House,” but then dialed that back to “won’t dominate [my White House].” …
In April 2009, Spinner joined a Department of Energy poised to unleash billions of dollars, becoming a “small business loan guarantee advisor,” a title that later shifted to “loan program advisor,” focused on financing start-up green energy firms and cutting-edge car makers. He held the job for 17 months.
The move turned a hearty presidential supporter and frequent energy investor into a DOE insider.
Spinner’s financial disclosure forms showed that he was an active investor in energy-related companies. On his final disclosure report signed Oct. 15, 2010, Spinner listed at least 15 purchases and 14 stock sales of energy-related stock earlier that year. …
Spinner’s Wife’s Firm Worked for Solyndra …
One of those law-firm clients, SEC records show, was Solyndra — the California solar panel firm whose collapse put half a billion dollars of taxpayer money at risk and prompted an investigation by the FBI and other agencies.
The law firm worked on the solar company’s failed public offering, the records show. And it also provided Solyndra with outside counsel on the DOE loan guarantee transaction. The company was paid $2.44 million for its Solyndra work, records show — money generated by the Energy Department’s stimulus loan guarantee to the solar panel firm. …
Steven Spinner was not with the department when Solyndra won a conditional commitment for the loan guarantee in March 2009. But he was on board when the loan closed that September. A few days later, at a clean-tech forum in Boston in September 2009, Spinner spoke of the virtue of the DOE’s support.
“We liked the taste of it,” he said, telling the Boston group the company would bring thousands of jobs.
After leaving the department last September, Spinner has continued to cheerlead for its mission. …
“This ‘embattled’ program has by all business metrics proven an outright success,” he wrote. “Even the most controversial loan guarantee recipient — Solyndra, a solar manufacturer — is seeing an operational turnaround.”
Little more than a month later, Solyndra fired 1,100 workers and filed for bankruptcy.
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