In light of the Solyndra bankruptcy, terms like “economic stimulus package” and “green jobs” now appear to be Team Obama code words for “kickbacks to political supporters so huge they would make a third-world despot green with envy.”
Solyndra is (or, more accurately, was) a California solar energy company that was the crown jewel of Obama’s first economic stimulus package, which cost $787 billion. Solyndra’s chief investor, George Kaiser, was also a bundler for Obama’s 2008 campaign, gathering over $50,000 in campaign contributions. Kaiser, together with Solyndra executives and board members, donated $87,050 to Obama’s campaign.
As part of the economic stimulus, Obama’s Department of Energy (DOE) fast-tracked a loan of $535 million (at the lowest interest rate granted by the DOE program) to Solyndra in 2009 to create green jobs. All other energy companies that received loans are paying an interest rate three to four times higher, and Solyndra got this amazing deal despite a Dun & Bradstreet credit rating that was only “fair.”
About a year later, Solyndra wasn’t making the payments and needed refinancing. In 2011, Solyndra’s CEO communicated with members of Congress, claiming that the company was on sound financial footing and would be able to repay a refinanced loan. DOE had a man attending Solyndra’s meetings, so they should have known whether the CEO was telling the truth. DOE arranged for refinancing.
Just a few months later, Solyndra laid off nearly all of its 1,100 workers and declared bankruptcy. Just a few days after that, agents of the FBI and the inspector general were raiding Solyndra headquarters and the homes of the CEO and two other executives, with search warrants.
That means that criminal charges are possible. But in the bankruptcy, DOE allowed Kaiser and other investors to recover their investments first, before DOE attempted to recover the $535 million in taxpayers’ money. What a sweetheart deal. America’s taxpayers have been left holding the bag.
In the mainstream media and at progressive talk boards such as Talking Points Memo and Daily Kos, this story isn’t receiving nearly the same amount of attention that such stories as the Enron bankruptcy attracted. For example, as of this writing a TPM story about the FBI raids at Solyndra has attracted precisely zero comments from TPM’s progressive readers.
The reason for this is clear: The Solyndra story contradicts the narrative that progressives want America to hear. The relevant portion of the narrative goes like this: Traditional energy companies such as Enron (led by Republican donors) are evil incarnate, but alternative energy companies like Solyndra (led by Obama donors) are as pure as the driven snow and can do no wrong.
For those of us here in the Chicago area, the pattern at Solyndra is a very familiar one. Democratic political supporters contribute to a campaign and, after the election, they are rewarded with access to enormous amounts of taxpayer dollars. For these supporters, donating a few thousand bucks to a Democratic candidate’s campaign is a smart investment if you can get away with it.
During his days in the Illinois State Senate, Obama may have learned this arrangement from its most famous practitioners: Governor Rod Blagojevich and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. As Blago notoriously observed, if you have something of value, you don’t just give it away. You sell it for as much as you can get.
Blago’s impeachment, removal from office and convictions on multiple corruption charges are well known. Daley, when he finally left the mayor’s office, was the subject of no less than five separate federal investigations. But what isn’t very well known is Obama’s role in Blago’s operation.
Two state boards targeted by Blago were in control of $41 billion in Illinois tax dollars. One controlled the teachers’ pension fund, and the other controlled hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for health care facilities. Blago and Obama sharply increased the number of seats on both boards, enabling Blago to immediately appoint a voting majority of Blago cronies on both.
Like Solyndra’s board members, these board members gained control of billions of tax dollars. For example, the teachers’ pension funds could be invested in a manner that would benefit Blago’s contributors. Or the health care facilities funding could be spent on contracts with construction companies owned by other Blago friends.
Obama was Blago’s point man in the state senate, getting the legislation passed that enlarged the two boards. Blago’s hand-picked board majority members were donating large sums of money to his re-election campaign and, like Kaiser did in the Solyndra case, to Obama’s various political campaigns: for state senate, U.S. Senate and, eventually, the presidency.
According to federal prosecutors, the architect of Blago’s scheme was Tony Rezko. Rezko’s arrangement of a sweet real estate deal for Barack and Michelle Obama is also well known. Like Blago, Rezko was convicted on 16 felony corruption charges. During the 2008 primaries, it was revealed that over $200,000 in tainted campaign contributions that passed through Rezko’s hands arrived in Obama campaign coffers.
George Kaiser followed this pattern with Solyndra. And consider where the rest of the first economic stimulus package went: hundreds of billions for infrastructure improvement projects, to be built with union labor — the same unions that provide foot soldiers and campaign contributions to the political campaigns of Obama and other Democrats.
Chicago political observers recognize the pattern of the Solyndra case. This is the Chicago way. It’s the Rod Blagojevich way. And clearly, it’s now the Barack Obama way. Now Obama has proposed another economic stimulus package, this time costing a mere $447 billion. Let’s all remember where the first $787 billion went: to political cronies like George Kaiser and the unions.
Jim Davis is a freelance writer and IT specialist working for a major Chicago law firm. He has been observing corrupt Chicago politicians (from a safe distance in the suburbs) for nearly half a century.