Johnson headed Obama’s vice presidential selection committee in 2008 and is the former chairman of housing mortgage giant Fannie Mae. He was listed as a campaign fundraising bundler for Obama in the 2008 race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and committed to raising $200,000 to $500,000 for the upcoming presidential race.
Johnson could not be reached for comment Thursday. Perseus Chairman Frank Pearl said in an interview that it is an “absurd idea” to think that Johnson’s political connections helped the Miami company.
“I doubt there was anybody at DOE that even considered the fact that Jim was part of this firm. We went straight through the proper channels of the [loan] program,” he said.
Department spokesman Damien LaVera said in a statement Thursday that “the decision to provide the Vehicle Production Group a loan was made based on the merits after more than two years of review by officials in the DOE loan program.”
Republicans have criticized the administration for what they say is a pattern of loan assistance going to politically connected clean-energy companies. Recently, they expanded their investigations of loan guarantees to other companies whose investors include Democratic contributors.
Both the White House and the Energy Department have said that no such pattern exists and that all decisions were decided on merit.
A nine-month House investigation of the loan guarantee program has largely focused on the Obama administration’s first clean-energy loan: $535 million to solar start-up Solyndra, a now-shuttered company whose lead investors were funds tied to George Kaiser, an Obama fundraising bundler and Tulsa billionaire.
The Energy Department ignored numerous warnings that the company’s finances were shaky and rushed to approve the Solyndra loan; now taxpayers are obligated to repay the money. The head of the loan program, Jonathan Silver, resigned this month, weeks after the head of the House investigative committee called for him to be fired.
In recent weeks, Republican lawmakers have widened their scope to more deeply probe $1 billion in loans approved by the same program to electric auto makers Fisker Automotive and Tesla Motors.
On Wednesday, a congressional committee chairman asked the Energy Department for documents concerning its decision to offer a $730 million loan to a U.S. subsidiary of a steel-making company run by the second-richest man in Russia.
The loan was for Severstal’s North American operation to upgrade a Dearborn, Mich., plant to supply the auto industry. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, asked Energy Secretary Steven Chu to explain why the firm merited taxpayer-backed financing considering the financial mishaps and global standing of its parent company.