Bankrupt solar company with fed backing has cozy ties to Obama admin

C.J. Ciaramella Contributor
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A solar energy company that intends to file for bankruptcy received $535 million in backing from the federal government and has a cozy history with Democrats and the Obama administration, campaign finance records show.

Shareholders and executives of Solyndra, a green energy company producing solar panels, fundraised for and donated to the Obama administration to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Tulsa billionaire George Kaiser, a key Obama backer who raised between $50,000 and $100,000 for the president’s election campaign, is one of Solyndra’s primary investors. Kaiser himself donated $53,500 to Obama’s 2008 election campaign, split between the DSCC and Obama For America. Kaiser also made several visits to the White House and appeared at some White House events next to Obama officials.

Campaign finance records show Kaiser and Solyndra executives and board members donated $87,050 total to Obama’s election campaign.

And now, just two years after securing a half-billion-dollar federal loan, Solyndra has said that it will declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

In a statement, Solyndra wrote “global economic and solar industry market conditions” forced it to close its Fremont, Calif., factory and lay off 1,100 employees.

“Regulatory and policy uncertainties in recent months created significant near-term excess supply and price erosion,” Solyndra president and CEO Brian Harrison said. “Raising incremental capital in this environment was not possible. This was an unexpected outcome and is most unfortunate.”

Obama cited the company as a model of success for his highly touted green-energy industry initiative. In fact, the Obama administration fast-tracked the solar startup’s $535 million loan application to the Department of Energy — a move later criticized by the Government Accountability Office.

Solyndra and the administration originally projected the loan would help Solyndra create 4,000 jobs.

During a visit to the Solyndra facility in 2010, Obama said the factory is “a testament to American ingenuity and dynamism and the fact that we continue to have the best universities in the world, the best technology in the world, and most importantly the best workers in the world.”

“Less than a year ago, we were standing on what was an empty lot. But through the Recovery Act, this company received a loan to expand its operations,” Obama proclaimed then. “This new factory is the result of those loans.”

According to a Washington Post report, Solyndra communications director David Miller called the White House to ask that a factory tour be added to Obama’s itinerary during a trip to California.

Campaign finance records show Solyndra shareholders and executives did their fair share of greasing palms.

Ben Bierman, executive vice president of operations and engineering for Solyndra, donated $5,500 to Obama’s election campaign. Karen Alter, senior vice president of marketing, donated $23,000 in 2008.

According to information collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, Solyndra board members have donated at least $27,400 to Democratic campaigns and affiliates.

Since 1998, Solyndra board member James F. Gibbons has contributed $13,500 on his own. Board member Winston Fu has contributed $4,550 since 2008. Since 1991, board member Thomas Baruch has contributed $7,150. And board member Steven R. Mitchell donated $2,300 to Obama in 2007.

Solyndra also spent $550,000 lobbying Congress in 2010. Between 2008 and 2011, the company spent more than $1 million lobbying for bills including the “American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009” and the “Solar Manufacturing Jobs Creation Act.”

Despite Solyndra’s recent bankruptcy announcement, the Department of Energy and the White House insist the investment was not in vain.

“The project that we supported succeeded,” a spokesman for the Department of Energy told The New York Times. “The facility was producing the product it said it would produce, and consumers were buying the product,” he said. “The company struggled because the market has changed dramatically.”

“While we are disappointed by this particular outcome, we continue to believe the clean-energy jobs race is one that America can, must and will win,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said today in an emailed statement.