Obama donor discussed solar loan with White House
WASHINGTON — Newly released emails show that, contrary to White House claims, a major donor to President Barack Obama pushed for a loan to a solar energy company that later went bankrupt. The donor, George Kaiser, pushed White House and Energy Department officials for a second loan for Solyndra Inc. last year, after the California company had already received a $528 million loan in 2009, the emails show.
The second loan was not approved. Instead, an investment venture controlled by Kaiser made a private loan that resulted in the firm and other investors moving ahead of taxpayers in line for repayment in case of a default by Solyndra.
Solyndra, the first renewable energy company to receive a federal loan under the 2009 stimulus law, declared bankruptcy in September and laid off its 1,100 workers, leaving taxpayers on the hook for more than a half-billion dollars.
The company's implosion and revelations that administration officials rushed to complete the loan in time for a September 2009 groundbreaking have become an embarrassment for Obama and a rallying cry for GOP critics of his green energy program.
Kaiser, an Oklahoma billionaire and major Obama donor, was a frequent White House visitor in 2009 and 2010. White House officials for months have denied that Kaiser talked about Solyndra during those visits. One the nation's richest men, Kaiser owns an oil company and other energy interests and is chief donor to the George Kaiser Family Foundation, which invests in early childhood education and community health.
In one email released Wednesday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Kaiser said that when he and a foundation official visited the White House last year, officials showed "thorough knowledge of the Solyndra story, suggesting it was one their prime poster children" for renewable energy.
In another email, a Kaiser associate appears confident that Energy Secretary Steven Chu would approve a second loan for Solyndra.
"It appears things are headed in the right direction and Chu is apparently staying involved in Solyndra's application and continues to talk up the company as a success story," Steve Mitchell, managing director of Kaiser's venture-capital firm, Argonaut Private Equity, wrote in a March 5, 2010, e-mail. Mitchell also served on Solyndra's board of directors.
The emails and other released Wednesday were obtained through a request to major investors for Solyndra-related documents, said Sean Bonyun, a spokesman for the Energy Committee.
The emails were released as the White House faces a Thursday deadline to respond to a committee subpoena for White House documents related to Solyndra.
White House officials accused the GOP-led committee of misleading the public by making it appear that Kaiser pushed for the original 2009 loan rather than the emergency loan last year, which was never approved.
"Even the documents cherry-picked by House Republicans today affirm what we have said all along: This loan was a decision made on the merits at the Department of Energy," White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in an email Wednesday. "Nothing in the 85,000 pages of documents produced thus far by the administration or in these four (emails) indicate any favoritism to political supporters. We wish that House Republicans were as zealous about creating jobs as they were about this oversight investigation."
Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., who heads a subcommittee that is investigating the Solyndra loan, said the emails contradict White House claims that Kaiser did not actively lobby White House officials on Solyndra.
"It is clear from these documents that Kaiser and his employees enjoyed ready access to the West Wing of the White House and exercised influence throughout the loan process," Stearns said.