A prominent fundraiser for President Barack Obama strategized how to leverage White House influence to secure a second loan guarantee for solar-panel company Solyndra in early 2010, according to emails released today by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton.
The emails show a close relationship between George Kaiser, an Obama bundler whose foundation invested in the company, and the White House on the Solyndra matter, and document several interactions between Solyndra representatives and White House officials.
But the emails also describe the limits of Solyndra’s ability to get the White House to intervene on its behalf.
Republicans are releasing the emails in part to step up pressure on the White House to respond to an Energy and Commerce Committee subpoena for documents relating to the solar firm that received a half-billion dollar loan guarantee and then went bankrupt. The firm did not receive the second loan the emails refer to.
Solyndra began pushing for a second loan guarantee in early 2010. The emails document a Feb. 24, 2010, meeting during that time period between Kaiser operative Ken Levit and Vice President Joseph Biden’s office.
“They about had an orgasm in Biden’s office when we mentioned Solyndra,” Levit, the executive director of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, wrote in a Feb. 27, 2010 email.
“That’s awesome! Get us a DOE loan,” responded Steve Mitchell, a member of Solyndra’s board.
In March 2010, then-Solyndra CEO Chris Gronet told Mitchell he had a “very positive” discussion with Jonathan Silver, a loan officer at the Department of Energy.
Mitchell then described Gronet’s call with Silver in an email to Kaiser and Levit.
“Apparently our application has been caught up with several other groups who were also wanting a second bite at the DOE loan guarantee apple,” Mitchell wrote in a March 5, 2010 email. Silver “did not say that we are the first one that will be considered but he all but did,” Levit wrote.
Kaiser responded in an email later that day. “Sounds good. ... BTW, a couple weeks ago when Ken and I were visiting with a group of Administration folks in DC who are in charge of the Stimulus process (White House, not DOE) and Solyndra came up, every one of them responded simultaneously about their thorough knowledge of the Solyndra story, suggesting it was one of their prime poster children,” he wrote.
Seven months later, Kaiser wrote to Mitchell and Levit describing the limits of his and his associates’ political influence.
“I question the assumption that WH is the path to pursue when both of your issues are with DOE. I doubt [White House officials] would intervene and, if they did, I am concerned that DOE/Chu would resent the intervention and your problem could get more difficult,” Kaiser wrote in an Oct. 6, 2010 email, referring to Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.
Mitchell responded the same day. “Understood,” he wrote. “The WH meeting is more about assistance in selling panels to the government than it is about getting the DOE loan revised. The WH has offered to help in the past and we do have a contact within the WH that we are working with. 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.”
Upton, in a letter today to Obama’s top lawyer Kathryn Ruemmler, said the emails provide additional reason for the White House to provide documents under subpoena.
The deadline for the subpoenaed documents is noon tomorrow, but the Michigan Republican expressed willingness to negotiate the details of their release in his letter.
“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. Nothing in the 85,000 pages of documents produced thus far by the administration or in these four indicate any favoritism to political supporters,” said Eric Schultz, a spokesman for Obama.