George Kaiser, the billionaire investor and fundraiser for President Barack Obama, discussed Solyndra LLC with administration officials, renewing debate about political influence in U.S. support for the company.
A March 5, 2010, communication from Kaiser to representatives of his family foundation, the biggest private investor in Solyndra, and its venture-capital arm said the solar-panel maker came up in a meeting with “administration folks” a few weeks earlier.
“Every one of them responded simultaneously about their thorough knowledge of the Solyndra story, suggesting it was one of their prime poster children,” Kaiser, whose family foundation invested in Solyndra, wrote in the e-mail released today by Republican lawmakers.
Kaiser’s role has been among the subjects of a congressional inquiry into Solyndra since the California company that received a $535 million U.S. loan guarantee filed for bankruptcy in September.
The e-mail and others released today contradict White House statements that “no political influence was brought to bear” and Kaiser “never discussed Solyndra during any of his 17 visits to the White House,” Representatives Fred Upton of Michigan and Cliff Stearns of Florida, who are leading a House Energy and Commerce Committee probe, said in a letter to White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler.
Democrats on the committee said the “selective” release of e-mails by Republicans presented a misleading account. In a two-hour interview with committee staff yesterday, Kaiser “directly contradicted your interpretations of the documents you released today,” Representatives Henry Waxman of California and Diana DeGette of Colorado said in a letter to Upton and Stearns.
“In his interview, Mr. Kaiser stated, ‘I never lobbied for Solyndra,’” the Democrats said. They cited e-mails, including one in which Ken Levit, executive director of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, said to Kaiser, “the truth is the name of the company has never crossed your lips with the administration” and “we certainly never lobbied for the company.”
A spokesman for the George Kaiser Family Foundation said the e-mails don’t undermine its previous contention that Kaiser didn’t discuss the solar-panel maker’s loan guarantee, granted in September 2009, with administration officials.
“To reaffirm our previous public statements, George Kaiser had no discussions with the government regarding the loan to Solyndra,” Renzi Stone, a spokesman for the foundation, said in an e-mailed statement.
Republicans “cherry-picked” e-mails from thousands of pages of communications released by the administration in response to requests from the Energy and Commerce Committee’s investigation panel, a White House spokesman said.
“Nothing in the 85,000 pages of documents produced thus far” shows any “favoritism to political supporters,” Eric Schultz, the spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement.
At the time of the visit Kaiser described in his e-mail, Solyndra was seeking a second Energy Department loan guarantee of $469 million. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has said the second guarantee was never under serious consideration.
‘Championed the Cause’
In the March 5, 2010, exchange with Kaiser, Steve Mitchell, managing director of Argonaut Private Equity, said Jonathan Silver, the executive director of the loan guarantee program, “championed the cause” for Solyndra’s second loan. Argonaut is the George Kaiser Family Foundation’s investment arm.
Silver resigned from the department in October after the program that funded Solyndra’s guarantee ended. The e-mails released today were provided to the Republicans by Argonaut.
Republicans sent the letter to Ruemmler as part of an effort demanding internal White House communications relating to Solyndra. In a Nov. 4 letter, Ruemmler said a subpoena issued the previous day by Upton for the internal communications was “overbroad” and unnecessary.
In an Oct. 6, 2010, exchange, Kaiser wrote to Mitchell and Levit that the White House may not be the place to pursue issues relating to the company.
“I would see an appeal as only a last resort and, even then, questionable,” Kaiser wrote.
Mitchell responded within minutes that the White House “has offered to help in the past and we do have a contact within the WH that we are working with.”
He also said the investors may not have the influence with the administration that executives of Fremont, California-based Solyndra expected.
“I think the company is hoping that we have some unnatural relationship that can open bigger doors -- I’ve cautioned them that no one really has those relationships anymore,” Mitchell said.
Within two months of that exchange, Solyndra defaulted on the loan guarantee by not setting aside $5 million for a reserve fund. By then, the company was negotiating a restructured financing with its investors and the Energy Department. An agreement was reached in February of this year that put taxpayer debt behind $75 million from private backers in case of liquidation.
Another e-mail released today, referring to the effort to get more Department of Energy aid for Solyndra, cited enthusiasm for the company among aides to Vice President Joe Biden.
Levit of the family foundation said in a Feb. 27, 2010, e-mail to Mitchell that “they about had an orgasm in Biden’s office when we mentioned Solyndra.”
Mitchell responded: “That’s awesome! Get us a doe loan.”