George B. Kaiser, the Obama campaign bundler and Tulsa oilman whose foundation's investment in Solyndra has raised questions of whether political influence played a role in the now-bankrupt solar panel company's winning $535 million in federal loans, had three White House meetings to discuss energy policy from Dec. 2009 to April 2011.
While Kaiser was a frequent caller at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., his foundation issued a statement stating that the Tulsa billionaire "did not participate in any discussions with the U.S. government regarding the loan." Obama administration officials told ABC News that the purpose of his contacts with the administration were to discuss the charitable endeavors of the George Kaiser Family Foundation.
White House visitor logs, which provide at most cursory information on the purpose of meetings, show three meetings between administration officials and Kaiser, Kenneth Levit, the head of Kaiser's eponymous foundation, and Anthony Knowles, president of the Kaiser-funded National Energy Policy Institute (NEPI), whose goal is "to move beyond total oil dependence and to supplant consumption of imported oil through increased domestic energy supply, reduced foreign oil and gas demand and lower carbon emissions to include enhancement of traditional sources of domestic oil, gas and coal."
Kaiser, who Forbes ranks as the 31st richest man in America, made his fortune from domestic oil and gas production, and owns Kaiser-Francis Oil, one of the biggest privately owned energy producers in the country. His foundation is also heavily invested in the energy sector–according to its most recent Securities and Exchange Commission filing, it held more than $750 million worth of investments in oil and natural gas producers, including a $371 million state in Unit Corp., a Tulsa-based oil producer and pipeline operator.
Kaiser's role as a fundraiser for Obama's 2008 campaign has led to speculation that the administration intervened on behalf of the ill-fated Solyndra's loan application due to political influence. The Tulsa World reported that, in March 2007, the oilman hosted an event at his home for the candidate, where Obama raised about $250,000. In addition to bundling for Obama, Kaiser boosted his donations to candidates in the 2010 election cycle, giving more than $180,000 to state and federal candidates–mostly to Democrats–more than double the $79,850 he gave in the 2008 cycle, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute for Money in State Politics, downloaded from TransparencyData.com. Kaiser's nonprofit foundation, which made the investment in Solyndra, lobbied Congress in 2010 on "Energy policy options that promote energy independence while reducing carbon emissions," according to lobbying disclosures.
Knowles, a Democrat who was governor of Alaska from 1994 to 2002, said in an email exchange with the Sunlight Foundation that the meetings with administration officials "involved either information on the energy policy study that NEPI was conducting with Resources for the Future [RFF]…or sharing the results of that study." The study examined dozens of proposals to cut U.S. dependence on foreign oil and lower air pollution, ranking their cost effectiveness and politically feasibility.
Knowles added that, "We did not advocate any specific policies or portfolio of policies," but rather offered a comparison of policies.
White House visitor logs show that Kaiser, Levit and Knowles met on Dec. 15, 2009, with Diana Farrell of the National Economic Council. Farrell, who left the NEC in January 2011, co-authored a paper outlining the administration's approach to technology–including energy–in Spring 2010. She also gave the keynote address at the White House Energy Innovation Conference in May 2010. Knowles said the purpose of the meeting was "to brief her on the broad scope of our energy policy analysis," which set as its goals reducing U.S. oil consumption by four million barrels per day by 2030 and the elimination of more than 12 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions. The analysis rated 35 different policies for achieving those goals.
On June 25, 2010, Kaiser, Knowles, Levit and Brad Carson, director of NEPI and a two-term Democratic Congressman from Tulsa, met with White House counsel Peter Rouse, according to Knowles, and Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the President for energy and climate change. White House visitor logs misreport the meeting, instead listing Caitlin Naidoff, an aide to Rouse, as an attendee.
The meeting with Rouse and Zichal was to discuss energy policy. "By this time the NEPI/RFF report was finished but not yet published," he said in an email, adding that they wanted to share the findings with the administration.
Carson told Sunlight that, "Cap and Trade was still alive in Congress then," and described the conversations as being, "Just general chatter about what was going on in energy policy."
On April 14, 2011, Kaiser, Knowles and Levit met with Rouse and Dan Utech, an energy special assistant in the White House. Knowles said the meeting was to follow up on the report, which concluded that a tax on oil use or carbon emissions, or a cap and trade policy, would be the most effective policies. "Given that these have been shown to not be politically viable," Knowles wrote, "we pointed out alternative policies that were effective but more costly."
Kaiser is on the board of directors of NEPI, and the George Kaiser Family Foundation disclosed making $1.9 million in grants to the organization in 2008 and 2009.
In addition to Solyndra and Unit Corp., Kaiser's foundation has multimillion dollar investments in domestic energy producers Anadarko Petroleum ($205 million), Sandridge Energy ($33.6 million) and Apache Corp. ($18.5 million), as well as a $6.7 million stake in SolarReserve, which won a $737 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy.
The nonprofit's latest SEC filing also showed a $124 million stake in Petroleo Brasileiros , or Petrobas, the Brazilian oil company. In March 2011, President Barack Obama said he wanted the United States to be a major purchaser of Brazilian oil.