Abound Solar, another participant in the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program, which is facing scrutiny, has hired Washington lobbyists because of that attention, a company spokesperson said.
The lobbying—by former government officials with ties to Congress and the Department of Energy—started in mid-October, about six weeks after Solyndra, the recipient of a $535 million loan from DOE, filed for bankruptcy. Like Solyndra, one of Abound Solar’s key investors is an Obama fund-raiser, although there is no evidence that the Obama administration favored the companies because of this connection.
The Abound investor is billionaire heiress Pat Stryker, who Forbes ranks as the 331st richest American. Stryker also donated $50,000 for Obama’s inauguration, according to the Center or Responsive Politics and bundled $87,500 for that inauguration, according to a bundler list released by the Obama campaign in 2009. She gave $35,800 to the 2012 Obama Victory Fund earlier this year.
The Abound Solar investment comes from Bohemian Companies, an investment firm founded by Stryker. She also leads the Bohemian Foundation, which gives grants to organizations that foster community and music, according to its website.
According to White House visitor logs, one Pat Stryker had a meeting in the West Wing in October 2009. The White House did not confirm that the visitor was the Pat Stryker in question and did not provide details about the meeting.
It is unclear if Stryker has ever discussed Abound Solar, which was granted a $400 million loan by the DOE in Dec. 2010, with the administration. Bohemian Foundation spokesperson Pam Jackson did not respond to a request to confirm the White House meeting or answer whether Stryker has ever talked about the company with the administration.
According to the visitor logs, the West Wing meeting was with Kristin Sheehy, a former executive assistant to the deputy chief of staff for operations. Stryker appears in the logs two other times—one for a holiday party and one for a tour—but these appear to be missed appointments because no check-in time is listed, according to White House spokesman Eric Schultz.
Abound starts lobbying
Abound Solar is just the latest firm receiving a DOE loan guarantee—a program enabled by the 2009 stimulus bill—to hire representation in Washington. Of the 24 companies awarded loans, 16 currently employ lobbyists, and 11 of those specifically mention the loan guarantee program in their lobbying reports. Those that don’t mention the DOE program may still be working on the issue, as some of them only wrote brief, vague descriptions of their activity.
On Dec. 14, 2010, the Colorado-based solar module manufacturer announced that it had secured the $400 million guaranteed loan. In addition, it has raised more than $300 million in private equity, according to company spokesperson Becky Ellzey. The loan is expected to fund 1,200 jobs from a new thin-film module plant in Indiana and expansion of its Colorado plant. Many other politicians, including Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., have backed the Abound Solar loan.
By mid-October, Abound Solar started paying lobbyists, according to a disclosure filed on Nov. 18.
“Because of the congressional scrutiny around Solyndra, it is in the company’s best interest to have an experienced consultant who can keep us up-to-date on the status of the congressional hearings, assist with our communications with Congress and with the Department of Energy, and provide general expert guidance and advice. B&D Consulting’s energy practice group has experience with the US DOE loan and grant programs and is familiar with our operations in Colorado and Indiana,” Ellzey said in a statement.
Well-connected former officials
The three B&D Consulting lobbyists hired by Abound Solar are all former government officials. One is Joshua Andrews, a former aide to Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., who has defended the loan guarantee program and likened the GOP attacks to bomb-throwing. Eshoo’s district includes many of the venture capital firms who have invested in green technology companies like Solyndra. She also serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee, although not on the subcommittee that has been holding hearings.
Another lobbyist, Cathy Tripodi, is a former Department of Energy official and used to be the director of energy at the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. A third lobbyist, Andrew Ehrlich, is a former chief of staff to the Republican leadership in the late 1990s, is a "recognized figure in Washington circles” and a “leading thinker on market-based strategies in the energy, tax and health care sectors,” according to his bio.
The Solyndra investigation
Scrutiny of the DOE’s program has intensified since Solyndra filed for Chapter 11 and closed down. This fall, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has held hearings on Solyndra and the White House recently hired an outside investigator to examine the loan program. The Republicans on the House committee released emails showing that one of Solyndra’a investors, Obama bundler and Tulsa billionaire George Kaiser, discussed Solyndra at a meeting with White House officials. Emails also show that Kaiser objected to lobbying directly on behalf of Solyndra.
Schultz said there was no political motivation behind the administration’s support of Solyndra.
“We are entering month ten of this investigation and everything disclosed in the 185,000 pages of documents, nine committee staff briefings, five congressional hearings, emails from Solyndra investors, and committee interview with George Kaiser, affirms what we said on day one: this was a merit based decision made by the Department of Energy,” Schultz wrote in an email.