Hillary To Raise Money At Home Of CEO Who Makes Solar Panels Using Prison Labor

Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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Hillary Clinton will fill her campaign coffers with the fruits of prison labor Wednesday afternoon.

That’s when the Democratic presidential candidate plans to attend a lunch fundraiser at the Atherton, Cali. home of Lyndon Rive, whose company, SolarCity, sources the manufacture of its solar panels and cells through Suniva, a Georgia-based company that contracts 10 percent of its labor through a government-owned corporation called Unicor.

Unicor, also known as Federal Prison Industries, pays federal prisoners less than a dollar per hour to manufacture a variety of products, including solar panels at Sheridan Federal Prison in Oregon.

Clinton’s financial ties to Rive and SolarCity — which also exist through two Washington D.C. lobbyists — are not likely to be well received by progressive Democrats. While Clinton appears to not have addressed prison labor during her campaign, she has vowed to stop accepting donations from private prisons.

She has also called for an increase in the federal minimum wage. But that demand is undermined by her support for the use of prison labor, which has been criticized for a variety of reasons, including that it undercuts wages of workers who are not institutionalized.

Rive and his brother founded SolarCity in 2006. The company’s chairman is Tesla founder Elon Musk. He also owns 22 percent of SolarCity’s shares, making him its largest shareholder.

As The Oregonian and The Grist reported last year, SolarCity began relying on prison labor in 2012, when it launched a project to install solar panels at Oregon State University and the Oregon Institute of Technology. (RELATED: Elon Musk’s SolarCity Used Prison Labor To Build Taxpayer Subsidized Solar Panels)

The company had partnered with another firm called SolarWorld to complete the $27 million project, which was also subsidized by $11.8 million in funds from the Oregon Department of Energy.

But SolarCity, which is the largest maker of solar panels in the U.S., soon maneuvered to push SolarWorld off of the project claiming it was worried about SolarWorld’s financial condition. And so SolarCity partnered with Suniva, which was founded in 2007 by scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology and, according to Reuters, is backed by a $200 million investment from Goldman Sachs.

Univa sourced its panels through Unicor, which paid prisoners at Oregon’s Sheridan Federal Prison a mere 93 cents an hour. SolarWorld had sourced its panels through an Oregon-based company that paid its workers a starting salary of $11 an hour.

Clinton is wedded to Rive and SolarCity in other ways — through both lobbyists and her family’s foundation.

SolarCity’s main lobbyist is the Podesta Group, a Beltway firm that was co-founded by brothers Tony and John Podesta. John Podesta serves as chairman of Clinton’s campaign. Tony Podesta is a bundler for Clinton’s campaign and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars on her behalf.

SolarCity pays the Podesta Group $50,000 a quarter for its work, federal records show.

Suniva’s lone lobbyist is a firm called ML Strategies. That company’s president is David Leiter. Leiter is also a major bundler for Clinton’s campaign. He is also married to Tamera Luzzatto, Clinton’s Senate chief of staff. Suniva pays ML Strategies $20,000 per quarter for its services.

Rive has previously personally contributed to Clinton’s campaign. He gave $2,700 to the effort while SolarCity employees have donated $11,390, according to federal records.

In 2012, the same year that SolarCity began contracting with Suniva, the firm signed a one-year, $1.6 million pact with the Clinton Global Initiative to launch a public awareness campaign to promote improvements at schools.

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